AAfter days of headline-grabbing announcements as part of the government’s weekend shutdown of boats, the stark human reality of what it means to take the perilous journey across the world’s busiest shipping lane is brought to our attention. home with the news that at least six people died that way in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The flimsy ship was packed with around 60 people, including children, who were desperate to get to the UK for safety. All those who lost their lives and most of the survivors were from Afghanistan. This has sharply brought into focus the failure to provide adequate safe routes for Afghans fleeing the hands of the Taliban and seeking sanctuary in our country.
As our recent Refugee Council report showed, 54 Afghans were newly resettled under the government’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, not the promised 5,000. This compares to more than 8,000 Afghans who arrived here last year, crossing the Channel in small boats out of desperation. For every Afghan who manages to arrive through a resettlement scheme, nearly 90 resort to risking their lives at sea.
Within the government, the determination to have a good conversation about stopping the boats remains strong. Ministers apparently want to introduce more barges, despite the discovery of legionella in the water at Bibby Stockholm, halting plans to transfer 500 asylum seekers to it.
But what drives the government’s agenda? Ministers talk a lot about prevention. They even suggested privately that the processing backlog of more than 150,000 people waiting for an asylum decision could act as a contributing factor, increasing the number of people who want to seek asylum.
There is an obsession with the idea that the more adversarial the asylum system is, the more it stops people. Anger is actually designed into the system. Justice secretary Alex Chalk described the accommodation offered at Bibby Stockholm as “sparse” and “relatively austere”, adding: “Frankly, that’s not unreasonable.” However, increasing the level of hostility will only result in making the system more dysfunctional, inhumane and potentially dangerous.
The Rwanda scheme is seen by all those in government as the last deterrent. A senior backbench Conservative MP told me that after meeting with the authorities in northern France, where people are waiting to cross the Channel, he is very confident that when the flights leave the ground it will stop the boats coming. But informed Home Office officials have quietly pointed out that the number of people who can be sent to Rwanda is in fact limited and only a fraction of the restrictions on applying for asylum under the new Illegal Migration Act.
The draconic law applies to all who arrive by any irregular means – not just in small boats but hidden in trucks, cars or ferries. Last year 70,000 people applied for asylum reaching all these clandestine routes. Although Rwanda takes in 10,000 people a year, our analysis shows that three years after the legislation came into effect, almost 200,000 people had their asylum claims deemed invalid. acceptable but not obtainable.
Dig a little deeper into the government’s thinking and it quickly becomes clear that it’s not really about prevention. A former immigration minister I spoke to informally a few months ago was very open about this. They should be men “jumping the asylum queue”, the former minister said.
When I pointed out that three-quarters of asylum cases adjudicated in the initial decision result in the applicant being allowed to stay in the UK, I was told that if they were “genuine refugees” they should not have to pay the people smugglers to get. dangerous journeys but must find their way to refugee camps to be assisted by the UN in a resettlement program to the UK or another country.
It expresses the deep-seated belief that people passing through the Channel never deserve to be given a fair hearing in the UK or treated with decency and humanity, because they are all considered “illegals” gaming the system.
This goes to the heart of the politics of stopping the crusade in boats. This is a deliberate shift from the commitment to a shared humanity and multilateralism made by the international community after the horrors of the second world war to an insular, unilateralist, more nationalist agenda similar to that promoted by the chief Italian minister Giorgia. Meloni or Marine Le Pen in France.
So we need to look behind the government’s soundbites about Channel crossings and ask ourselves: what kind of country do we want? There are fundamental choices to be made and we must make them – between liberalism and nationalist populism, between humanity and inhumanity, between compassion and cruelty.
Stands for treating men, women and children seeking asylum with dignity, care and understanding, respecting their rights and giving them a fair hearing. That will be the symbol of the country we want to be and the values we want to uphold.