Most people who cross Channel in small boats are refugees, report finds

Refugee Council findings contradict Priti Patel’s claims that 70 per cent of arrivals are ‘economic migrants’

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 17 November 2021 09:06
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What's behind the Channel crossing 'crisis'? | Behind The Headlines

The majority of people who cross the Channel in small boats are refugees, according to new research which contradicts claims by the home secretary last month that 70 per cent of arrivals are “economic migrants”.

An analysis published by the Refugee Council reveals that those who make the dangerous crossing are likely to be allowed to remain in the UK as refugees, with only just over a third of those arriving not being deemed to have fled persecution.

The report, based on freedom of information (FOI) data and Home Office statistics, finds that 91 per cent of people came from just ten countries where human rights abuses and persecution are common, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Eritrea. According to the Home Office 98 per cent of people coming across the Channel apply for asylum.

It comes three weeks after Priti Patel told the Lords Home Affairs and Justice Committee that over the last year, 70 per cent of individuals on small boats have been “single men who are effectively economic migrants and not genuine asylum seekers”.

The home secretary also claimed that the current widespread use of hotels as asylum accommodation to house asylum seekers in the UK had acted as a “pull factor” for people to enter Britain via unauthorised means.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression.”

The report finds that overall for the top 10 countries of origin arriving by small boat, 61 per cent of initial decisions made in the 18 months to June 2021 would have resulted in refugee status being granted, compared to 52 per cent for overall asylum decisions in the same period.

It shows that for Syrians the grant rate is likely to be 88 per cent, for Eritreans  84 per cent,  for Sundanese and those from Yemen 70 per cent, for Iranians 67 per cent, and for Afghans 56 per cent.

The Home Office is trying to introduce a policy to deem asylum seekers who have passed through a safe third country on their way to Britain “inadmissible”, meaning their claim would not be considered in the UK and they would be returned to the country they travelled through.

However, the UK has failed to strike any bilateral returns deals with European countries. Thousands of asylum seekers have been served a “notice of intent”, meaning the Home Office is seeking to remove them to a safe third country, so far this year. If after six months this has not happened, they are placed back into the normal system if.

The Refugee Council report states: “Many of the nationalities issued with a notice of intent had exceptionally high grant rates at the initial decision stage. This suggests that the vast majority of these cases are likely to be granted protection as and when they enter the decision making process.”

There are extremely limited alternative “safe routes” available for many of the top nationalities crossing the Channel, states the report. The UK did not resettle a single person from Kuwait, Yemen or Vietnam in the period January 2020 to May 2021 and only one person from Iran was resettled.

The Refugee Council is calling on the government to rethink its Nationality and Borders Bill, which is making its way through Parliament and intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, as well as enabling the Home Office to set up “offshore asylum processing hubs”.

On Tuesday, Conservative MP and former minister David Davis laid an amendment to the bill calling for the plans to send asylum seekers to another country while their claims are processed to be scrapped.

Mr Solomon added: “This government should show compassion by welcoming those who need refugee protection rather than seeking to cruelly push them back across the channel or punish them with imprisonment. At the same time there needs to be an ambitious expansion of safe routes so people don’t have to take dangerous journeys to reach safety.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a long history of welcoming those in genuine need and this is at the heart of our new plan for immigration. But we must put an end to dangerous journeys, facilitated by violent criminal gangs profiting from misery.

“Our plan for immigration provides the only long-term solution to fix the broken system, and that’s why we’re changing the law to deter illegal entry and break the deadly business model of the people smugglers.”

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