On January 1st, 2021, immigration rules were changed to make it much more difficult for anyone who has traveled across Europe to consider your asylum application in the UK.
What’s the problem with that? There are many safe countries in Europe and nobody should risk their lives trying to cross the canal in an inflatable boat.
These two statements are of course correct, and the new rules, according to the government, are intended to “destroy the business model of the ruthless criminal gangs” who offer this type of dangerous and extortionate passage.
The changes will make the hostile environment even more hostile, which will discourage people from attempting a crossing to the UK.
However, all of this assumes that desperate migrants have some idea that the rules have been changed. If they are still ready to try the trip, the gangs will certainly not enlighten them, so there will continue to be a booming market for their exploitative business.
There are many reasons individuals and families might want to come to the UK, in particular: They may speak English or they already have family and friends here to welcome them. We shouldn’t underestimate the desire to seek something familiar when your whole world has fallen apart. What kind of country could you and your family flee to if you were in their shoes? There’s a good chance it’s not the most accessible country but where you are most comfortable.
The government’s new plan is to send asylum seekers back either to a safe country they have crossed or to another safe country they have never been to. The government has not given details of such agreements with other countries to facilitate these moves. It’s a bit like, “We’re going to build a wall and Mexico will pay for it” – a great slogan, but nobody bothered to ask Mexico.
In the meantime, the government plans to house refugees who make it here in camps, apparently without access to running water or health care. They have been called “open prisons” by the conservative leader of a Hampshire township council, in which a camp is to be established.
Just before Christmas, the minister said in the House of Commons: “We will continue to welcome people to Britain in safe and legal ways.” However, the main safe route – the refugee resettlement program – has been out of operation since March last year. And even then, this was only for people displaced by the Syrian conflict. Failure to provide a definitive timeframe for restarting the system or for its long-term expansion to other areas of the world where people are in need of protection does not help dissuade desperate people from using other avenues to get to the UK .
After we leave the EU, we need to figure out how to position ourselves in the world. Wouldn’t it be better to be seen as a haven for the needy than an increasingly hostile environment pulling the drawbridge up against those seeking safety on our shores?
The number of asylum seekers in the UK is far lower than in many European countries with land borders: France received 123,900 asylum applications in 2019 compared to 35,566 in the UK.
But taking advantage of our island status feels like another case to me where the UK is grumpy job worth sitting pissed off behind a desk finding an excuse not to do what is obviously right. We use our watery scope as a technical way out to select only the “deserved” refugees whose looks we like. while other countries take more than their share. Nobody likes a job value. So why do we strive to be one on the international stage?
The long-standing fear of tabloids and populist politicians of the “dangers” of immigrants has made it difficult to see those fleeing war and terror in their own countries as people like us whose birth circumstances have experienced war and persecution in their own lands and has lost their homes, possessions and security. It is easy to dehumanize them, and from then on it is a small step to reject their plight as something that does not concern us here.
But no one would seek a winter crossing of the canal in stormy seas if they felt they had a choice. When I was Lib Dem leader, I visited the jungle camp in Calais where people hoped to find passage into Britain. They had no knowledge of our social system, our NHS or even our asylum rules. Many of them saw Britain simply as a place of security and a beacon of freedom where they could escape persecution and civil war.
At the other end of the spectrum, we plan to offer visas to thousands of overseas British nationals fleeing the Chinese regime in Hong Kong. Last month activist Nathan Law announced that he had applied for asylum here because of the persecution in his home country. I am very happy that he and his colleagues are welcomed, but why do we not equally bother with the story of an Iranian political activist who arrives here on a boat from France?
If you are a true patriot, you will be embarrassed when your government is actively trying to pollute the UK’s reputation as a civilized place of safety. The new immigration rules embody a Britain that I do not recognize. Indeed, it is a UK that fewer and fewer of our friends recognize. It is an act of reputational self-harm and a further undoing of our Christian heritage. I am not surprised, but I am ashamed.