English Channel refugee crisis has been made worse by Brexit – Angus Robertson MSP

Why is the English Channel becoming a mass grave?

Tuesday, 30th November 2021, 4:55 am
Boris Johnson continues to be his juvenile self in dealings with France over refugees crossing the English Channel, says Angus Robertson (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson continues to be his juvenile self in dealings with France over refugees crossing the English Channel, says Angus Robertson (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

As you will have read, last week 27 people died trying to claim asylum in the UK. It is an utter horror, yet this is only one – albeit larger – case of needless deaths in the Channel. In the last 20 years, over 300 others have succumbed needlessly to the waves. Around one in six were children.

Those resorting to such desperate measures are not doing so to come for an easy life living off benefits in the UK, as some tabloids will have you believe.

As former head of the diplomatic service, Lord Kerr, outlined in an excellent speech this week, the vast portion of those who cross the Channel from France to the UK are granted asylum. Meeting the criteria for asylum means that, in all likelihood, death awaited them at their origin.

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Putting it plainly, those crossing to the UK are recognised as fleeing for their lives.

Lord Kerr exposed Home Office policy to assist migrants and asylum seekers – or lack thereof – as central to the reasons why people resort to crossing the Channel in such perilous ways. In practice, Home Office resettlement schemes no longer exist, he says. A mere handful of migrants have been accepted by official schemes.

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Yet the fact remains: with or without official schemes, people fleeing war and persecution will attempt to make it to the UK. The lack of schemes merely forces people to take drastic measures.

Insofar as there are those worthy of asylum, it is surely our moral duty to help not hinder them; to provide safe passage.

As they should have, the deaths of 27 people gave cause for introspection across not just the UK and France, but most of Europe, which has struggled to balance compassionate asylum and migration policy with political reality.

It should have been a moment to end the wilful blindness to the plight of people crossing the Channel and to work with partners to recognise and solve the problem. Instead of that, it has become a political football with Boris Johnson acting his usual juvenile self in relations with France.

Rather than galvanising a meaningful partnership with President Macron, the British Prime Minister launched a blame game via Twitter.

The delusional approach of the UK government has been reinforced by UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid who claimed on Sky that the UK had taken in more asylum seekers “than any other country in Europe”.

Not only is this untrue, it is misinformation on a gigantic scale given how many more people have been helped by countries like Germany, with Sweden and Austria taking the most in compared to their populations.

The current UK approach to migration is shameful. By turning off the legal opportunities for refugees to claim asylum, desperate people are being forced to risk their lives to cross the Channel in flimsy boats.

British ministers are content to go on television and make unchallenged false claims while blaming France for everything from asylum to fishing. Brexit was supposedly about “taking back control” and managing Britain’s borders.

By leaving the EU, the UK has managed the opposite: it’s not in control and it’s less able to manage its borders. Meanwhile men, women and children are drowning in the English Channel.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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