(originally blogged by Phil Davis, Hope Coordinator, at https://darkenedroomweb.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/gunboats/)

“The UK has a proud tradition of providing asylum to those who need it and the safety and wellbeing of those in our care is of the utmost importance.”

I know this to be true. The Home Office repeat it frequently. Somewhere in comms in Croydon (I assume its Croydon – I don’t really know) there is someone who has that phrase set up to paste on ctrl V. This time it came from a response to Nigel Farage. By the time you read this it will have been said again in some other context.

So the appearance of gunboats in the English channel is puzzling.

Apparently, taking advantage of our proud tradition most of the world’s economic migrants are passing through France to get to Britain via the channel where they will either claim our benefits or take our jobs. Possibly both.

So lets do this. First the numbers and then the law.

  1. Most migrants travelling to the UK via Calais are from Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Sudan. All astonishingly dangerous countries. Without prejudging anyone’s case, there is on the face of it, a reasonable chance that they are fleeing persecution not just travelling for business. Also, just by the by, they are countries where English is more likely to be spoken than most other European languages. Perhaps that’s why they might want to be in England?
  2. In 2019 there were 79.5 Million ‘persons of concern’ to the UNHCR. Of these 26M were refugees, the rest either internally displaced people or asylum seekers (people waiting for their claim to refugee status to be determined). 4000 people have crossed the channel in small boats this year. That’s about 0.00005% of them.
  3. In fact last year 35,566 people claimed asylum in the UK. In the same period 154,620 claimed asylum in France. So you can see why France might not be too sympathetic to Britain’s claims that France needs to do more.

And then there is the law

A refugee is a person who is outside of their country of origin and, on the basis of a well founded fear of persecution, is unable or unwilling to return. That’s the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees. Legislation in large part drafted by the British on which all international refugee law is based. Interestingly there is nothing in there about ‘first safe country’, much beloved of a certain type of commentator.

It follows (and this is an important bit) that to claim asylum in Britain, you have to be in Britain. If you can’t get to Britain, then you can’t claim asylum. There is technically a legal right but it is in practice utterly nullified.

And there is no legal route for the people in Calais to get to Britain. No possible way to test whether our proud tradition of asylum is still functioning. So, without a legal means people will find another means. I’m not saying an ‘illegal’ means because I’m not at all sure that trying to leave France on a boat is illegal. And claiming asylum on arrival in the UK is definitely legal.

The one point where I will agree with the UK Government is that rubber dinghies are not the right way to do this. But in the absence of any other, safer route, they will continue. Sending in the gunboats is as pointless as it is deadly.