비lue skies appeared above Dover, and for the crew of the Valiant, moored off the harbour wall, it was a signal to start readying for action. Fine weather meant more migrants would soon be heading towards them. For those on board the Border Force cutter, it was a familiar routine. Already this year it has brought ashore hundreds of asylum seekers, another 65 last Sunday alone.
So far, 6,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats during the first six months of the year. The figure for the whole of 2020 였다 8,417, a total expected to be eclipsed during the next two months as clement weather makes the treacherous crossing more tempting.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has pinned her political career on halting these crossings. Last Tuesday, her long awaited Nationality and Borders bill was published with an emphasis on thwarting the crossings. Critics believe her bill relies on twisted logic. By making it harder to claim asylum, they say it is more likely to force asylum seekers to use the smugglers who orchestrate the Channel crossings. 그동안, the Home Office is increasingly accused of what one critic yesterday called a “race to the bottom”.
그만큼 관찰자 heard claims last week that newly arrived unaccompanied minors are being classed as adults following supposedly complex age assessment interviews conducted via telephone, allegations denied by the Home Office. Other arrivals are said to have been placed in “unsecured” homes with no paperwork and no initial interview by immigration officials. Elsewhere, those held in disused military barracks have received Home Office papers warning that they face being deported to another country under an agreement that so far no country has signed up to. Mental health is an increasing issue; a young person waiting for an asylum decision after arriving in the UK in 2014 told his doctor last week that he would rather be dead.
All these details are linked to Patel’s determination to reform the asylum system amid what is presented as a Channel crossings “crisis”. But what if there was no crisis to begin with?
Away from Dover’s white cliffs, the statistics offer a more nuanced picture than the one projected by the Home Office. For a start, the current numbers of asylum seekers are relatively low. Last year’s record Channel crossings constitute just a tenth of UK asylum applications received in 2002.
시 12 months to April, 26,903 asylum applications were received, ㅏ 24% decrease from the previous year. That in itself is dwarfed by the number of immigrants entering the UK. 에 2019, around 680,000 long-term international immigrants, individuals who change their country of residence for at least a year, entered the UK.
Such data has encouraged some to believe the Channel “crisis” is a deliberate political construct. A sluggish response to processing asylum claims, they say, has helped create a record backlog of 109,000 cases that in turn allows the Home Office to convey the impression that the system is being overwhelmed by an influx of arrivals.
Chai Patel, legal policy director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, 말했다: “The crisis around Channel crossings is one that has been entirely created by Priti Patel because she is refusing to process their asylum claims or put them in asylum accommodation – instead creating these quasi ex-military prison camps which have horrific conditions and make it a much more visible crisis. That seems to me to be a deliberate plan.”
He is not alone in noting that the UK’s asylum intake is modest compared to our EU neighbours. Examining the number of asylum applications per head of population, the UK ranks 17th out of 28 European countries. 독일, 예를 들어, counted more than 102,000 applicants last year.
Experts also say that Channel crossings need to be seen in the context of how migrants enter the UK, arguing that boat journeys merely replace a drop off in attempts by lorry, once the preferred route. “More people are crossing by boat than before but that’s because all the other routes have stopped to a large extent,” said Chai Patel.
Following the closure of the Calais migrant camp in October 2016, entry to the UK by lorry appears to have declined sharply. Figures for the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles dropped from 56,000 attempts in 2016 ...에 32,000 three years later. The numbers are likely to have fallen further during the pandemic. 하나, the Home Office will not say how many migrants have recently been intercepted in France or following “lorry drops” in England compared to numbers crossing by boat.
Clare Moseley of charity Care4Calais said a crackdown following the death of 39 Vietnamese in a lorry trailer in Essex in October 2019 has played a part. Vietnamese, 그녀는 말한다, are among the nationalities who have made a switch from lorries to crossing the Channel by boat. “It’s just easier," 그녀는 말한다.
The asylum seekers ferried into Dover marina by vessels such as the Valiant may feel relief at reaching their destination. Yet increasingly it is the start of a bleak process. “The Home Office’s objective is not to grant asylum and to deport people. Shouldn’t it be asking how it can run the system efficiently and fairly?” says Moseley.
Hotels are again being filled with those waiting for a decision. Another five were recently seconded to hold asylum seekers. Care4Calais has heard of new arrivals being placed in properties after having no screening interview by immigration officials, and no documentation.
At Napier barracks in Kent, where asylum seekers have been housed in dire conditions, residents say they have received “notices of intent”, warning that anyone who has travelled through a safe country like France on their way to the UK will be returned there. Yet the Home Office has failed to persuade a single safe country to accept its plans.
Maddie Harris, from Humans for Rights Network, says the threats cause fresh distress for camp residents. “It’s another way of putting their case on hold, of creating delay. No one knows how this will end.”
Unaccompanied children arriving by boat are not spared either. Patel’s proposals advocate new age assessments to identify adults pretending to be children. Yet lawyers warn that the Home Office has started classifying children as adults.
Stuart Luke of legal firm InstaLaw says the recent announcement that the Kent unit to house unaccompanied children was full meant that every new arrival claiming to be a child was being disputed. Speaking on Wednesday morning, Luke said he had just met with an underage new arrival, one of 42 similar cases taken on by his firm last week.
He said the youngster was immediately detained at an immigration removal centre near Gatwick airport and interviewed by officials over the phone. “That phone interview led to the Home Office saying: ‘We do not believe you are a child’ but without even seeing them. They would usually dispute someone’s age on the basis of appearance, demeanour and presentation but they are not even observing them,”그는 말했다.
Luke added that while the Home Office was quick to announce how many age assessment cases it disputed, it ignored how many decisions were subsequently overturned. “Saying there are all these people lying about their age is just not true,”그는 말했다. He estimates that at least 75 of every 100 contested cases are overturned in the child’s favour.
Others warn that the Home Office’s approach is damaging the mental health of unaccompanied minors. Bridget Chapman has worked with refugee children since 2005 and says the situation has never been worse. “If you are putting children through more trauma, then you have to assume it’s deliberate.”
Chapman, of Kent Refugee Action Network, states that Home Office attempts to make it harder to win asylum were causing significant stress. “There are increasing degrees of despair, people talking about suicide and self harm.”
She recounted a recent incident of a young person she is helping who is still waiting for an asylum decision after seven years. “He has learning difficulties, there is no way he could be returned to his country of origin. Yesterday I sat with him during a medical assessment as he told the doctor he often considered how to kill himself.”
Many are clinging to the hope that much of Patel’s asylum blueprint may unravel. Last Thursday, the Crown Prosecution Service dealt her plans a blow by announcing it would no longer prosecute migrants, and instead would focus on the smugglers.
Her proposals also feature new powers for the Border Force to divert vessels suspected of carrying illegal migrants. Volunteers for the Dover-based group Channel Rescue hope border officials will rebel against directions asking them to stop rescuing vulnerable people. “There’s always that potential that people might say we’re not prepared to do that,” said volunteer Kim Bryan.
More broadly, Patel’s proposals ignore the fact that they won’t stem the global factors that drive migration. “We are not going to stop people making this journey, so the question is: how do we deal with it so people feel they have an option that doesn’t involve them risking their lives?” said Chapman.
Back in Dover, the Valiant remained moored outside the port throughout Friday. A brisk wind was blowing, making the crossing perilous. Soon the sun will return and the Valiant will disappear into the Channel, searching for its next human cargo.