Tuesday, June 21, 2022

An Ethical Asylum Solution

Whether you see them as refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and oppressive regimes, or simply as economic migrants looking for a better life - for now I’m just going to refer to them as people, ok? - there’s no denying that the number of people crossing the English Channel in flimsy inflatable boats to enter the UK over the last few years has increased dramatically.

In 2018 the number was less than 300; in 2021 the number was almost a hundred times that.

Why such a huge increase?

Well, it’s all down to the actions of the UK Government over the last few years.

Before 2021 the UK was signed up to the Dublin Agreement, because we were in the EU. 

Most people know of this as the agreement among EU (and a number of other, non-EU) countries, which allowed us to send asylum seekers back to the first country within the agreement, that they entered in their journey from their original homeland.

As a result many of the people reaching the UK could be legitimately transferred back to their first country of entry. The people knew this, and this served to limit the number of people travelling across the EU into France, with a view to coming to the UK.

Leaving the EU effective as of 31st January 2021 meant we were no longer able to return such people from the UK to their first country of entry. 

This suddenly added a massive incentive to those people travelling across Europe and into the UK via France - if stopped in the UK they couldn’t be sent back. As a result of this incentive the numbers of people multiplied by almost a hundred in just two years.

Brexit supporters will tell you that Brexit was necessary in order for us to to take back control of our borders, and that losing access to the provisions of the Dublin agreement was necessary in order for us to leave the EU.

Except that’s not true.

The real reason we are no longer covered by the Dublin Agreement, is that when negotiating our eventual exit agreement from the EU, the UK Government was not willing to fulfill its obligations under another part of the Dublin Agreement.

Remember the Agreement’s purpose is to ensure that an asylum application is only considered by one of the participating states (the EU member states plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland).

However, it’s not quite as simple as specifying the first country of entry; instead it sets a hierarchy for determining which state should be responsible for processing an asylum application. 

As well as setting out transfer processes and timelines, the Regulation gives greater importance to family reunion than which country an asylum seeker first entered.

The terms of the Agreement are less strict that the UK Government immigration rules on what constitutes close family, and so a few more people were granted asylum in the UK under the Dublin Agreement’s definition of family than would have been the case under UK rules.

The UK Government therefore chose to ditch the terms of the Dublin Agreement when drawing up the agreement to exit the EU.

In the UK Government’s own words, taken from its own House of Commons Library briefing document:

“What future UK-EU co-operation did the Government want?

The Government did not want to replicate the provisions of the Dublin Regulation.

It proposed two draft agreements with the EU which related to certain specific aspects of the Dublin Regulation:
  • an agreement on the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children for family reunion purposes
  • a readmission agreement for accepting returns of irregularly residing UK/EU citizens and third country nationals

Unsurprisingly the UK was asking for the benefits of the Dublin Agreement without the drawbacks, and as a result the negotiation with the EU was unsuccessful.

When the Conservatives are criticised for their inhumane and unethical Rwanda Policy, and their false arguments are exposed (see my blog post here), the Conservative Government asks “Ok, so what would Labour do?”.

The answer to that question is simple.

Thom Brooks, Professor of Law and Government at Durham Law School, has outlined how the UK would have a truly world beating, fair immigration system under a Labour Government, in his article https://labourlist.org/2022/06/britain-can-have-a-world-leading-asylum-system-but-only-labour-will-deliver-it/

As Brooks says, “A more effective way of ensuring control is a new cooperative arrangement with France and the wider EU for returns, alongside a joint anti-trafficking taskforce.”

“We should have border controls, and only a Labour government can ensure they are fit for purpose by preventing abuses and fulfilling our humanitarian obligations for which we should be proud.”

“As a former shadow immigration minister and shadow Brexit minister, Keir Starmer understands this. We need Labour in power to deliver it. Britain can have a world-leading plan, but not while the Conservatives remain in government.”