The migrant question

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Migrants arrive at Pett Level

Last week an article by our editor on the very significant numbers of migrants attempting illegal entry into the UK by crossing the Channel in small, and usually overloaded, boats unsurprisingly attracted a lot of comments ranging from, in effect, let them all in, to keep them all out. It is a subject on which strong views are held on all sides.

But who is right and who is wrong. Indeed is there such a thing as completely right or completely wrong in this situation?

First we should perhaps define the difference between “migrant” and “asylum seeker”. Broadly speaking an asylum seeker is one who is forced to flee from his country in fear of persecution or their life. A migrant, in the current sense of the word, simply seeks to find a better place to live.

Britain has a long and honourable history of accepting those who are forced to leave their homeland – one comment last week reminded us of the welcome given to Jews and also the Kindertransport of the 1930s. Subsequently we provided a safe and secure home for thousands of Asians forced out of Uganda by Idi Amin (and who have more than repaid the gesture by manning our corner shops at all hours, staffing the NHS with nurses and doctors, including a number of now-eminent consultants, to say nothing of lawyers, engineers, teachers, business people and the current Home Secretary), and more recently the offer made to many Hong Kong Chinese who could be in potential danger from the appalling communist government in Beijing.

Those seeking asylum here are required to apply either from their country of origin (often impractical) or from the first safe country they reach. If their application is genuine it will usually be approved, although the process can take some time. For those that want to come here simply to improve their quality of life, there are now strict conditions, one of which is that they need to have a firm job to come to.

Young male migrants land at Dungeness

The problem with the cross Channel migrants is that the genuine asylum seekers, however deserving they might be, are jumping the queue and trying to be allowed in ahead of others, many of whom will have spent months, possibly years, in unsanitary and sometimes dangerous refugee camps. In the case of those simply seeking a better life, they are breaking the law by landing without any of the required papers or identification and by not fulfilling current immigration requirements.

In both cases there is also the question of, who are they? Are they all poor displaced refugees who only want somewhere safe to live a peaceful and honest life? In many instances – probably most – that will of course be the case. But there will also be some who have their own agenda in coming here and which is designed to be of no benefit to – and possibly to hurt – this country.

There are also two other factors that one should not forget: Covid may, for the moment anyway, be on the retreat, but no one knows where these people have been or who they have been in contact with and it is inevitable that some will arrive with the virus, as evidenced by outbreaks in detention centres. Also there is a cost to all of this. Each migrant is currently costing around £30,000 a year to house, feed and clothe. In the overall scheme of things, this may not seem a great deal but it is anticipated that in excess of 20,000 migrants will arrive illegally this year incurring a cost of around £600m and that is not including those already here. A sum that would provide a good few nurses and doctors for the NHS, and a sum also, if any government was so minded, that would be of enormous benefit to those of our own country who are without a roof over their heads.

An inflatable boat similar to one found at Winchelsea Beach some time ago

The scale of the problem is aggravated by the traffickers who promise a land where the migrants will be given a home, a job and money which will more than compensate them for the small matter of anything between around £3,500 and £7,000 charged to get them as far as a boat on a French beach. Videos of recent arrivals have shown dinghies crowded, almost exclusively with young fit men and few, if any, women and children, suggesting that they have made the long and difficult journey from their homeland purely on the promises of those who lie without compunction and have no interest in their “clients” other than the enormous profits to be gained by this trade in human lives.

The government have maintained for some time that the only true answer is to put the traffickers out of business, although so far they have been singularly unsuccessful in doing this. They must also come to some accommodation with the French who are aiding and abetting the traffickers by escorting the migrant boats, sometimes from just a hundred yards or so from their coast, into UK waters where the navy, Border Force and often the RNLI are left with no option but to bring them in to safe harbour or to see them land on our beaches including Dungeness, Camber and Winchelsea Beach.

A recent bribe of £54m paid to the French to beef up their beach patrols is unlikely to make much difference, although a proposed change in the law will make it illegal not only to land without proof of who you are and where you have come from, but now also to even enter British waters without such proof. The French would therefore be breaking the law by encouraging boats to cross from French to British waters, although whether the small detail of respecting our laws would stop them is, of course another matter.

Image Credits: Dietlind Löffler , Rye News library , Carol Macdonald .

10 COMMENTS

  1. comment pouvez vous dire qu’en quelque sorte nous facilitons les migrants a traverser la Manche c’est une pur bêtise et une mauvaise information que de raconter cela nous aussi nous sommes et plus que vous confronté au malheur de ces pauvres gens le véritable fléau se sont les passeurs qui les embarquent sur de minuscules bateaux nous sommes confrontés tout au long de l’année par les vols de bateaux et de moteurs par des individus sans scrupules qui viennent des pays de l’est et qui les embarquent pour traverser la manche combien de sauvetage ont été fait par nos sauveteurs il ne se passe pas une semaine sans une intervention pour les ramener en France il est dommage de donner de si mauvaises informations. cordialement

  2. A couple of points to correct John’s assertions:-
    1. Asylum seekers do not have to apply in the first country they arrive in.
    2. There is no such person as an ‘illegal’ asylum seeker. They are required to be protected whilst they are processed for refugee status.
    3. The numbers are difficult to find, but the number arriving in Kent is increasing. 8,000 this year so far, about the same as for the whole of 2020.
    4. Refugee Action website has a lot of facts.

    • Thank you, Chris, for your comments. You may well be correct that asylum seekers do not have to apply in the first safe country they reach. However the expectation of the the government is that they should and that there is no reason not to do so.
      Regarding the phrase ‘illegal asylum seeker’, I never referred to the cross-channel arrivals as that. They are migrants at that stage, who have arrived in this country by illegal means i.e. landing without proof of identity or any other required documents. They can certainly apply for asylum on arrival but that does not guarantee that they will get it, particularly as so many recent arrivals give the appearance of economic migrants rather than true refugees.
      The Refugee Action website is interesting, but it must be remembered that this organisation has its own very specific agenda. Nothing wrong in that but their presentation of the facts is, not surprisingly, always going to be biased in favour of that agenda.

  3. Here is a literal translation:
    “how can you say that in a way we make it easier for migrants to cross the Channel it is pure stupidity and bad information to tell that we too are and more than you faced with the misfortune of these poor people the real scourge is are the smugglers who embark them on tiny boats we are confronted throughout the year by the thefts of boats and engines by unscrupulous individuals who come from the countries of the East and who embark them to cross the Channel how many rescues were made by our rescuers not a week goes by without an intervention to bring them back to France it is a shame to give such bad information. Cordially”

  4. With all due respect, it is overly simplistic to blame French authorities. If you happen to read French papers you will notice that many Channel crossers are brought back into French territory each week. Boats are also frequently stolen from French ports along La Manche by traffickers. It is a very sad day for this country that our Home Secretary has become so very horrible in her denunciations of asylum seekers. They are human beings who have run into extraordinarily difficult life circumstances, some of which have been caused by disastrous Western policies and military action in northern Africa and the Middle East. Leaving the EU, as was predicted, has brought the border to our shores.

  5. A small point regarding Britain’s “honourable record”. I don’t think anyone would dispute the Kindertransport. The British Govt waived all visa requirements and put no upper limit on the number of children we’d give asylum to. Honourable indeed. However, in the case of many of those whom we received from Uganda, they were already British subjects.

  6. Sorry, Columbo-style, ‘just one more thing’… People seem to get hung up on the fact that migrants tend to be ‘fit young men’. Just on a philosophical point, why does that make any difference? And on a factual point, there’s a reason: If migrating from Muslim country or a conservative society, culturally, it would be very unlikely that young, unmarried women would undertake such a journey. Hence the predominance of young, unmarried men – economic pressures probably being one reason they’re unmarried. I suspect that in the majority of cases, these young men are migrating to support their families and extended families financially. They have to be young and physically fit to endure the trek.
    This is not some deindividuated brown mob. These are people subject to social, political, environmental and economic pressures. Not to mention the pressures of conflict. We might admit, they also have hopes, as we do… None of that ‘bleeding heart’ stuff means we shouldn’t look after our own, apply our own laws and regulate migration, but we should also see the bigger picture very clearly.

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