How to stop the crossings of the Channel? There is no doubt that our relationship with France is essential. I’m not naive about this: I know a thing or two about negotiating with the French.
Clearly, the shadow of Brexit and the impending French presidential election are making matters worse. But we have already found a common cause: securing the entrance to the Channel Tunnel and closing the Sangatte refugee camp. We must rediscover this spirit of cooperation to ensure that strong patrol and surveillance measures are in place. It is certainly not beyond us.
In the longer term, the Nationality and Borders Bill will be an integral part of the fight against this perilous phenomenon. The Home Secretary is undoubtedly determined to find a solution and she is right about many of the answers offered: we need to take a tough stand on the vile smugglers who trade in people’s lives. But on a specific front, I am afraid that she was wrong.
The bill contains a proposal to give the UK unprecedented powers to send migrants to a third country for their asylum claims to be processed. This means that the government could deport migrants before their applications have been considered, thus creating a reverse immigration process: deport first, ask questions later.
Proponents of the “offshoring” policy have used the Australian model, on which it is based, to claim that it is effective in reducing the number of boat crossings. But our geography is totally different. And the Home Office has not explained where this offshore processing will take place.
The Norwegians said no. The Albanians said no. The Rwandans said no. So now the Home Office considers Ascension Island: 2,000 miles from Britain, with no infrastructure on the island, and only a weekly flight from Johannesburg, via Namibia. Relocation started costing Australians over £ 300,000 per person per year, but ended up costing over £ 2 million per person per year. The UK only has even more expensive options.
We now know that in centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, many detainees were mistreated, while others languished in limbo year after year with little hope of resolution. We know the sky-high costs were unsustainable and the policy was abandoned. So why are we trying to emulate this failed strategy?
Of particular concern is the widespread nature of preventive expulsion. For a deterrent to be effective, there can be no exemptions or exceptions. In effect, the minister rejected an amendment at committee stage and explicitly excluded any derogation. Thus, a pregnant woman, an orphan child, a young family – all will be deported to a transit country and detained while their fate is decided.
And therein lies a great irony. At least three quarters of asylum seekers detained in offshore processing centers by Australia were ultimately considered genuine refugees. Likewise in the UK, the vast majority of those seeking asylum are granted asylum. Pushing the problem to another part of the world is just an expensive way to delay the inevitable.
From mountains of paperwork and chartering RAF flights, to building the required infrastructure and managing foreign bureaucracies, logistics involve colossal costs that the British taxpayer could well do without. At worst, we could inadvertently create a British Guantanamo Bay.
Parliament should not give the government a power that it has not explained how it will use. Neither should we grant a power that we do not want to see used. We said no to pre-trial detention. We said no to identity cards. And we should say no to offshoring until the government can explain how and where it plans to do it.
There is no magic bullet, but the current proposal will do little to tackle the push factors that cause people to leave their home countries or the pull factors that draw them to the Kingdom. – United, like speaking English or wanting to be reunited with their family. Importantly, it will not deter refugees from attempting to reach the UK; they will always look for other means.
Instead of a policy based solely on the exclusion of people, the government should consider creating a legitimate entry route for genuine refugees. Many will be surprised to learn that the UK does not have a proper program in place for people to exercise their right to seek asylum. Migrants fleeing repression in Iran or famine in war-torn Yemen cannot approach British embassies. They are not allowed to board flights without guaranteed permission to enter the UK. The only options available to them are either illegal or dangerous or both.
Creating new legal and secure roads would be a constructive rather than destructive deterrent. It would give people a chance to make their point and think again about the Channel crossing. It would send the message that Britain is steadfast and fair, realistic and compassionate. Only then can we really regain control.