The home secretary’s claim that 70% of people arriving in Britain via the Channel are “economic migrants” has been disproven by the Refugee Council, who find that nearly two-thirds are granted protection. Channel crossings may be increasing due to little risk of return to the EU since the UK left the bloc in January. The home secretary has blamed a “legal industry” based around appeal procedures and the Church of England for the dysfunctionality of the UK’s asylum system.

After a daily record for sea arrivals to Britain was broken on 11 November, the home secretary’s claim that 70% of those arriving are “economic migrants” has been refuted by ECRE member the Refugee Council. In a new report, the Council found that 61% of first instance decisions made in the 18 months prior to June 2021 for the top ten countries of origin of arrivals would have resulted in refugee protection being granted. Further, 91% of people arriving came from countries where human rights abuses and persecution were common and accordingly people originating from them more likely to be granted protection on appeal. According to the NGO, these figures illustrate that “most men, women and children crossing the Channel in small boats are in need of protection […] and should be permitted to remain in the UK”. Nevertheless, the UK remains committed to making the route “unviable” and on 15 November published a joint statement with the French authorities agreeing “to prevent 100% of crossings”. The French embassy disputed this claim in a tweet: “For the record, the 100 per cent figure was not agreed … and should not be presented as an agreed commitment: it is not. And it is not part of the joint statement”.

More than 23,000 people have arrived in Britain this year after crossing the Channel, almost three times the total of about 8,500 in 2020. The rise has been linked to the UK’s exit from the EU, with refugees reporting that there is little risk of return to other European countries. One 19-year-old in Calais was quoted as saying “We believe we will not be safe unless we can reach the UK. Because of Brexit [there is] no Dublin, no fingerprints any more”. A Home Office minister admitted on 17 November that the number of people sent back has plummeted since Brexit. Only five people have been returned to the EU since January, compared with 289 last year when UK was part of the Dublin Regulation.

As the dysfunction of the Home Office increasingly becomes the subject of public pressure, Priti Patel has blamed a “professional legal services industry [that] has based itself on rights of appeal, going to the courts day-in day-out at the expense of the taxpayers through legal aid”. The home secretary said this “merry go-round” of appeals was being exploited by people who “have come to our country and abused British values, abused the values of the fabric of our country”. Patel made reference to a suspected suicide bomber who remained in the UK after his asylum claim was rejected. As the man was converted to Christianity by the Church of England, church officials have also been attacked by the Home Office for helping asylum seekers to “game the system”. The Home Office has refused to admit its own responsibility for systemic failures, including poor accommodation, long waiting times, and minimal mental health support. UK law allows for the detention of asylum seekers, even if they have not committed a crime, without a time limit or automatic judicial review. This leads to people being held in detention for months or years, where they are twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety or PTSD than if they had been in the community.

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Photo: (CC) Jeff Djevdet, February 2016

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.