Current increase in migrants crossing the Channel is of concern

From: Joseph MullenDarley Road

Friday, 6th September 2019, 10:53 am
Police at the scene. Picture by Dan Jessup SUS-190827-175407001

Your leader opinion piece ‘why do migrants want to come here when France isn’t that bad?’(Herald August 30) highlights the current increase in migrants crossing the Channel. The rate of increase is of concern, with some 386 migrants arriving in Kent and Sussex by small craft during the month of August. On August 30 alone, some 66 migrants made the crossing.

Your leader piece asks the question of ‘why migrants want to come to the UK when they cross a perfectly safe country such as France’. For a refugee claim to be valid under current EU rules (known as the Dublin Agreement), the asylum seeker should register for asylum at the first safe country s/he enters and be fingerprinted. There is a common data base for all EU countries. Despite the law many migrants express a strong preference to seek asylum in Britain because of family links, familiarity with the English language, a slow but fair claims process, usually liberty of movement while awaiting hearing, free legal aid with judicial appeal options if unsuccessful at First Tier Tribunals, a flexible labour market, modest weekly allowance of £35.39 for food and clothing and educational opportunities. Crucially, there are often pathways for gaining equivalence in educational and professional qualifications acquired in their home countries. While all of these constitute a significant ‘pull’ factor for migrants, conversely there are also benefits to host countries in getting virtually cost free qualified professionals.

The final comment in your piece that we are lucky to be ‘on the other side of the drawbridge’ may be a dog whistle implying that, after Brexit, we can turn back many of these migrants or prevent their entry. However, the UK is committed to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is grounded in international law and is independent of EU jurisdiction. It makes refoulement (or automatic rejection) an offense; thus prohibiting a person’s forced return to the country from which they fled, due to torture, war, lack of human rights or threat to life. This international obligation would be unaffected by Brexit in any form. Should there be a ‘no deal Brexit’, cooperation with the French authorities is likely to decline and there will be no available access to the EU database on migrants. Worse still, there will be few incentives on the part of the French authorities to reduce the flow of both economic migrants and asylum seekers from across the Channel and even perverse incentives to adopt a laissez-faire approach (‘wave them through’). This is likely to create substantial spending commitments for local government in our coastal towns of Sussex and Kent; requiring critical support from central government. On the positive side, however, there may be also creative skill pools among such populations to be developed , who on arrival after a long sea journey, appear extremely vulnerable. Suggestions of a drawbridge approach are neither desirable, workable nor lawful.