Updated: Jan 10
In November 2022, a video of Home Secretary Suella Braverman being asked by the Home Affairs Committee on how an African child fleeing a combat zone might safely apply for asylum in England surfaced. She was unable to respond.
The reality is that the only countries where refugees fleeing persecution have a designated path to seek asylum in England are Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan, with only the former being implemented on a large scale. In almost every case, people who are forced to flee from anywhere else in the world have no safe route to seek asylum in the UK that doesn’t involve a small boat crossing or irregular journey
The Nationality and Borders Act was passed by the government in April 2022. Within this, asylum applicants are treated as criminals based on their mode of entry into our country - those who enter the UK via small boat crossings in the Channel can receive lesser protection and face harsh criminalisation
Many who support such a rule are likely to do so because, on first glance, these policies could lead one to believe that they will decrease deaths on the Channel. What a lot of people also miss is how this rule limits an individuals' ability to apply for asylum at all, given the absence of any other safe, ‘legal’ routes.
This is why our Home Secretary in the video failed to provide a direct response -
in short, for people of most nationalities fleeing persecution, there ARE no other ways to reach the UK other than via the Channel.
Our leaders seem to have forgotten that rights are freedoms that everyone is entitled to from the day they are born until they die. Each and every person has rights. The right to seek asylum from persecution is included in the declaration for human rights, along with the rights to life, to a private and family life, and to religious freedom.
This is why it is erroneous and damaging to have laws that label immigrants who enter a country to request asylum as being "illegal." It merely incites animosity and prejudice towards those seeking shelter. Your ability to request asylum in a country should never be constrained by how you got there. People make the journey because we as a country do not hear asylum claims from people who are currently not here and here lies the contradiction in the UK’s current policies towards refugees.
Though it is someone's right to be allowed to reach the UK via irregular means in order to seek asylum, this doesn’t mean they should be forced to. We have seen that almost 300 lives have been lost in the last 20 years while attempting to cross the English Channel. In addition to the dangers of the crossing itself, the criminalisation of small boat crossings means that many are forced to pay smugglers, or become vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. No matter how much the UK government tries to 'crack down', for many refugees, this is the only way to apply for asylum in the UK - increased hostility only puts more lives at risk.
If we want to end trafficking, smuggling, and deaths on the channel,
Let's give people safer ways to still seek sanctuary in order to preserve their lives.
Let's begin processing more asylum requests so that those with a legitimate claim to asylum can be given the protections owed to them under international law.
Let's reduce the backlog to stop the influx of migrants in temporary housing.
On the 26th October 2022, The Home Affairs committee reported that 96% of the asylum requests made by people who arrived in tiny boats are yet to be resolved. Over a third of them wait for 3 or more years. Children make up at least 15% of the people that arrived on small boats, and too many are forced to endure vulnerable childhoods without access to many rights and freedoms, as a result of this legal limbo.
Many people who are pro measures which seek to prevent people seeking asylum here in the UK tend to fixate on the fact that, theoretically, a person could apply for asylum in France, making the journey to the UK unnecessary. What many also fail to recognise is that:
People are entitled to choice as to where they seek asylum and many of those that seek asylum in the UK have family here.
The number of people who actually seek asylum in the UK is comparatively extremely small: The UK is home to approx. 1% of the 27.1 million refugees.
Finally, it's critical to understand that the rise in asylum applicants is largely due to people escaping oppressive governments. The surge of refugees worldwide is a result of the world becoming increasingly unstable. According to the refugee council, Just ten nations, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and Eritrea, account for 91% of those who requested asylum in the UK. These nations frequently tolerate human rights violations and persecution.
It is only in a society devoid of rights violations will we witness a decline in asylum applicants, not due to criminalising migrants who arrive via the English Channel.
This is why developing an effective asylum seeking system not riddled with backlog or aimed at alienating people for merely exercising their right to refuge is one of the better solutions.
Instead of the 2 minute monologues uttered by various party leaders every time there is a report of channel deaths, let's provide safe routes for people to cross the channel. Most importantly, let's be honest and admit that harsh policies are anything but effective. All they have accomplished so far is to punish migrants for trying to flee life threatening living circumstances.
Mulumbeni has been volunteering with SolidariTee since 2022. She is concerned about ensuring the safety and wellbeing of individuals seeking asylum, and she supports the development of compassionate policies that don't further marginalise those who are awaiting their asylum claims.