We have witnessed the worst humanitarian disaster connected to the channel in recent times. These 27 people, children, men, women – some of them pregnant – were so desperate that they were willing to risk their lives in the hope of seeking safety in the UK. My thoughts are with their families and friends as they cope with their loss.
It’s a tragedy and one which was utterly predictable. The government’s current strategy of pretending that the route can be made “unviable” while spending millions of pounds displacing the crossings further up the coast has succeeded only in making journeys riskier with more deaths resulting.
Refugees will continue to flee and smugglers will find more dangerous routes – the financial benefit is too great. The tunnel route became harder so they switched to the channel. One area of the French coast became harder, so they moved further up the coast, and it continues. Each time a route is closed, smugglers and desperate refugees find a more dangerous one.
We know that the UK takes far fewer asylum seekers than most other European countries – we have the 17th largest intake of asylum seekers per head of any country in Europe. Those that do seek safety in the UK often have family here, or they have historical, colonial ties and they believe we are country where they can find safety and build a new life.
We should be proud of that. Refugees don’t have to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach – if all countries insisted on this, then countries like Greece, Lebanon and Pakistan would be under even more pressure because of their geography. We have an international convention which works so that every country plays its part and the UK certainly can.
The government needs to consider realistic solutions addressing the real causes of people risking their lives, ones which are managed and safe, not ones that are just political posturing and frankly dangerous – which we can see are not working.
This is why I’ve jointly tabled an amendment to the nationality and borders bill together with cross party colleagues – tabled initially by Neil Coyle MP at the committee stage. It proposes the creation of a humanitarian visa for people in France seeking to come to the UK to make an asylum claim. It would ensure that adults and children who have a connection with the UK and whose asylum claims have a good prospect of success are granted safe passage.
They would then enter the asylum system and have their claim considered in the same way as other asylum seekers. Data shows that the majority of people crossing the channel are likely to be recognised as being in need of protection as the majority come from countries that have the highest asylum grant rates.
Alongside an ambitious refugee resettlement programme, an operational Afghan resettlement scheme and family reunion for all refugees, a workable humanitarian visa would drastically reduce small boat crossings and help undercut the business model of the people smugglers.
This is an opportunity for Boris Johnson to lead the way in showing we are a country who will offer safety to those who need it without them risking their lives, that we will continue our proud tradition of sanctuary and welcome.
It is deeply upsetting that, once more, it’s taken death in waters close to home for consciences to be stirred. It is imperative that we grasp this moment of enhanced compassion and public recognition of the crisis on our coastline and make a change which will have real impact.
This is an opportunity for Boris Johnson to lead the way in showing we are a country who will offer safety to those who need it without them risking their lives; that we will continue our proud tradition of sanctuary and welcome.