UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is being urged to introduce a UK humanitarian visa following the death of 27 people attempting to cross the Channel. Recorded as the single-most number of people to lose their lives in the Channel since migrant crossings began, men, children and women – some of whom were pregnant – perished in a desperate bid to reach Britain.
Now, MPs from four opposition parties are calling for the introduction of a humanitarian visa that would allow people to cross the Channel safely, if they can prove that they have a good chance of securing refugee status, and provide a valid reason to submit an application in the UK rather than France.
Following the latest Channel tragedy, the Labour Party’s Neil Coyle has already laid out an amendment to Patel’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill, and accused the Home Office of being culpable in the deaths of those in the Channel, which were avoidable.
No legal means to enter the UK
Coyle said: “The government has created a situation where even allies of Britain, like Afghans who fought alongside us, have no legal means to enter the UK and feel boarding a dinghy is their only hope.”
The Labour MP’s proposed amendment to the Bill, drafted by the charity Detention Action, has also been backed by Liberal Democrat MP, Tim Farron, the SNP’s Joanna Cherry and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.
It’s understood that a number of Tory MPs are considering an amendment to the Bill that would make it easier for children, who already have relatives living in the UK, to make the journey to Britain safer.
The Nationality and Borders Bill is currently making its way through Parliament.
Criminalising asylum seekers
In its current form, the Nationality and Borders Bill will criminalise asylum seekers who arrive on British shores via illegal routes, giving them only temporary status under which they will have very few rights. Patel claims that this is an effort to persuade people to only attempt UK entry via legal immigration routes.
The Home Secretary told Parliament that she had offered France joint patrols and a partnership to try and tackle the crisis. However, French President Emmanuel Macron rejected the idea amid concerns over France’s sovereignty if UK immigration enforcement officers were to patrol French shorelines.
Britain continues to blame France for the increasingly desperate situation in the Channel. The number of crossings has spiralled in two years, rising from 2,000 in 2019 to almost 26,000 in 2021 so far. With more crossings anticipated, and the winter months setting in, there are growing fears over further deaths.
French efforts not enough
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently claimed that French authorities ‘aren’t doing enough’ to patrol their beaches – despite Britain giving France more than £50 million toward tackling the crisis.
Johnson said: “There has been difficulty in persuading our neighbouring country to do things in a way that we think the situation deserves.”
However, others have pointed the finger of blame at the UK. Director of Detention Action, Bella Sankey, said: “The catastrophic situation represents years of government failure – spending vast sums of public money to displace refugee journeys making them harder and more dangerous.”
Ms Sankey backed calls for a UK humanitarian visa to ‘ensure that traumatised men, women and children can be brought to the UK safely, while undermining the business model of smuggling gangs’.
Alternative safe routes closed down
Meanwhile, the chief executive of Safe Passage, Bethany Gardiner-Smith, argued that government ministers have closed down several safe UK immigration routes into Britain.
In particular, she highlighted the ‘Dubs Scheme’, which allowed unaccompanied children to enter the UK, while a Syrian resettlement scheme was also axed. Meanwhile, a new scheme for Afghan nationals has not yet been set up.
According to the latest figures, in the year to September 2021, only 1,171 people arrived in the UK as refugees via a resettlement scheme – down from 2,160 in the previous year.
Gardiner-Smith said: “One of the reasons for this tragedy is the lack of any safe options for people – and as we have seen people who are desperate will still try to come. What is the next step – building a Trump-style wall? Where is this going to end?”
She went on to blast ministers for ‘doubling down on the same old failed policies’ and argued that the Borders Bill would ‘do nothing to stop more boats coming’.
Equality impact assessment
Following an equality impact assessment of the new Borders Bill, the government said that the aim of the legislation is to ‘persuade asylum seekers to claim in in the first safe country in which they arrive’. However, the government did concede that the evidence supporting the effectiveness of this approach is ‘limited’.
Furthermore, the assessment concluded that increased security and deterrence measures included in the Bill may also ‘encourage people to attempt even riskier methods of entering the UK’.
Tighter security measures at the Eurotunnel and more frequent checks on lorries have also been attributed to a rise in the number of boat crossings in the Channel.
Patel claimed that last year, 70% of people crossing were ‘economic migrants’. However, the Refugee Council has refuted this claim, saying that in most situations, the people crossing are from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. According to the Refugee Council, 98% of those crossing will claim asylum.
The Refugee Council said: “While we don’t have data on individual cases, overall – from the top 10 countries of origin – around 61% of applications will be successful, and result in refugee status.”
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