A potential solution to the channel crossing crisis

The ongoing migrant crisis has taken another foul turn. News reports told us that a boat capsized and 27 migrants seeking to cross the channel have died. British and French politicians rushed to blame each other. In the meantime, many more continue to try and make the crossing every day. Desperate people, made in the image of God, risking their lives.

Watching a BBC News report yesterday, they accurately reported that most seem to take one of two positions. On the one hand, the Home Office want to get tough. They want to make all such crossings illegal, going so far as to suggest we employ people to push migrant boats back into French water, making it someone else’s problem. Any who do arrive here by boat, managing to dodge such measures, will be immediately detained and then deported. They also wish to set up so called legal routes established much further away.

The problems with this approach are numerous. To understand the problems associated with the proposed legal routes, see here. As I noted in that posts:

Very few who are fleeing their government/regime are able to turn up to an airport, with their passport and all their belongings and ask to hop on the first flight out of Tehran whilst their government have a warrant out for their arrest. In fact, such a person would get to the UK and find short shrift as their escape would be deemed to be the actions of somebody who had little to fear at home. Those able to blithely leave, having gone home to collect all their things – who had the time to collect and collate reams of evidence before they left – do not typically look like those fleeing for their lives.

A further issue with the proposals above is that they go against the 1951 Refugee Convention. The convention recognises that people fleeing persecution will have to use ‘irregular means’ to access a safe country and thus makes it legal to enter the country by otherwise illegal means so long as asylum is claimed upon arrival. The Home Office plans would potentially breach this convention. As I noted in the previously linked article:

The Home Secretary is saying one of two things. Either almost all asylum seekers are going to be treated as though they have entered illegally or none will. Unless this is just a bit of gesture politics designed to look like they’re doing something when they aren’t – which is not beyond the realms of possibility – we have to assume it won’t be the latter. If the former, almost all asylum seekers will be treated as having entered illegally and not permitted to to receive long-term leave to remain. The few who get here by so-called legal routes will probably be rejected because their applications seem spurious because of the route they could take and the evidence they were able to get together before coming. It is hard not to conclude we are essentially saying we are shut to asylum seekers altogether.

More seriously still, her plans to simply push boats back into French waters will further endanger the lives of those on the boats. All the more likely if, as seems eminently possible, the French authorities do not simply receive them back but seek to push them back again in order to similarly avoid the problem. Aside from being a deeply dangerous thing to do – likely to see more boats capsizing and further loss of life – it is hard not to view such an unwillingness on all sides to take responsibility as an utter moral failure.

The alternative position is often put by charity and aid workers. They call, not for so-called legal routes, but safe routes. They want a much more open-handed approach to the question of asylum and are pushing for an overhaul of the entire system. Most argue for a ‘humanitarian response’. This, in effect, means because of the loss of life that we should make it considerably easier to people to come and for their claims to be processed.

Of course, against this, the government do not want to encourage people to come and claim asylum. Their fear is that many who claim asylum, and the easier it is to both come and receive refugee status, is that many economic migrants will abuse the system. The easier they make it to come to the country, some will forego the visa process and claim asylum instead. Others, they fear, will seek to claim asylum and then disappear, making them untraceable by the Home Office. Given the government wish to manage immigration, they fear this would be an open invite to any who wish to come.

The issue of dangerous crossings stems from the people smuggling gangs exploiting those desperate to get here. The simplest way to avoid the dangerous crossings is to make the people smuggler’s market obsolete. The only way to really achieve this is to provide safe and legal routes to the UK.

One simple way to achieve this is to establish a joint French/UK operated asylum ferry service. Those seeking asylum in the UK may claim asylum by getting onto that free ferry service. Without providing a free and accessible route to the UK, the people smuggling gangs will continue to have a market for those keen to get here, who have no other means of doing so. If such a service were created, it would be easy to say to those coming by any other boat that they will be immediately deported to their claimed country of origin. It would be reasonable to have patrols on the beaches where such boats land, ready to pick people up and return them to their stated country of origin. Again, this is only a viable thing to do if we provide a free, legal, accessible means of getting here apart from these otherwise ‘irregular means’.

We do not, however, have to couple this to an open door policy. Whilst I do believe the asylum system requires an overhaul and has some serious inbuilt biases, further action can be taken to limit the seeming open door invitation. I want to stress I am only talk about coming by boat here. I believe other ‘irregular means’, where we do not have such problems as we are seeing in the channel, should still remain an options for those seeking asylum. Nevertheless, as far as coming by boat is concerned, those who do not come by the safe legal route provided can be immediately deported. Further, coming by the safe legal ferry route would not entitled anyone to NASS housing, but would automatically lead to placement in a processing centre. I would aim to put time limits on that, so that nobody could stay in such a centre for more than a set period and would be moved into NASS housing, with the usual restrictions, if their case had not been processed within that time. However, an automatic dispersal to a processing centre would limit the number of people wishing to get here for reasons other than genuine need of asylum.

As Amenesty International right note here:

If the government is truly concerned with tackling these gangs and their abuse of people, they must set up safe asylum routes, so people no longer need to depend on smugglers.

We desperately need a new approach to asylum – including genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes, a major overhaul of the painfully slow applications system, an end to the use of dangerous and unsuitable accommodation facilities like Napier Barracks, and a political approach based on real humanity.

I essentially agree with this. I believe we need a safe ferry route, operated by the French and UK governments, from Calais to Dover. We should insist that all who get on that ferry are necessarily claiming asylum as they do so; anybody who arrives by any unchartered boat will not receive their asylum and will be immediately deported. Those who arrive by the chartered ferry are agreeing to a period of time (of up to one year) in a processing centre during which time their case will be heard and opportunity for appeal included. If a case is not heard in time due to systemic delays, I believe the government should be made to grant asylum, noting this as their own failure to do as they promised. Such a centre must be fit for purpose and not the kind of unsuitable and dangerous accommodation the government has previously used.

This, I believe, would strike a balance between the callous and dangerous approach of simply pushing boats back, potential further casualties and immediate deportations of the desperate and the alternative extreme of effectively putting out a clarion call to anybody who wishes to come to the UK on any grounds, knowing that the asylum system might be a soft means in. Few who are not genuine asylum seekers would want to commit to a year of potential detention without any certainty their case would be accepted or ability to work. This approach would stop people arriving and then disappearing on the black market, which happens frequently . It would also limit the terrible (and growing) number of cases in which people wait years, sometimes more than a decade, to have their cases decided. It would put the onus on the government to hear cases in good time with the consequences being to the asylum seekers benefit and the government’s detriment if they fail to make good on their promise to hear a case in good time. This would also kill off any market the people smugglers currently have. Other ‘irregular means’ would remain open and a clear and safe route run in tandem between the UK and French governments would be available.

To help with this, I would be inclined to offer (as we have done before) an amnesty on all asylum applications that have been in process longer than 3 years. This would free up the courts to deal with new appeals. It would also follow (broadly) the principle outlined above – where the government and systemic delays have been at fault, asylum will necessarily be granted.

Whilst some would take issue with the idea of a processing centre at all (and I am sympathetic to disquiet about that), several things bear saying. First, this is only for those coming by ferry. The reason for this approach is solely to deal with channel crossings but needs to be balanced against an effective open border policy. The knowledge that the chartered ferry will lead to detention in a processing centre and arrival by any other boat will lead to immediate deportation may push others to seek other means of arrival that are more manageable for us. For those without any other means, the safe route will allow them access to a fair hearing here without further risk to their lives. Second, this processing centre must be a better facility than what they have been used to in Calais. It would not be a ‘camp’ as such, but a proper facility in which proper food and accommodation would be provided. Third, it would be for a limited time, with the onus on the government to hear the case and offer a decision in good time, working in the asylum seeker’s interest if the government do not make good on this.

It should be said that unless the official routes are attractive enough, people will continue to take their chances using back door options. One of the major problems the Home Office face is that unless they stack the odds in favour of the official routes, nobody will use them. As they do not want to stack things in asylum seeker’s favour, they are struggling to find attractive options that stop people utilising and paying people smugglers. If they have any hope of getting a handle on this, they need to create routes that are a) safe, b) accessible and c) known to give a better chance of receiving asylum than any other available route. Because the Home Office do not want to improve the odds of anybody coming in, they are unlikely to achieve very much.

One means of getting around this problem – and recognising that the Home Office themselves are often the issue – is to offer an alternative. If you come by the official ferry route, you will be fast tracked in front of an independent judge entirely apart from the Home Office. This has the benefit of giving people a sense of a fairer hearing and by-passing one potential hurdle to your asylum, namely a hostile Home Office. Whilst the appeals tribunals are not without their issues, they are at least independent and not bound by the kind of quotas the Home Office imposes on itself. For those who come by a non-official route, they will be subject to the current system of a Home Office interview with the ability to appeal to a judge should your case be unsuccessful. This then offers a real incentive to use the official, safer route wherever possible.