Why Britain’s migration problem isn’t going away – POLITICO


LONDON — If Britain thought leaving the EU would solve its concerns about migration, it was wrong.

The rapid increase in the number of people trying to cross the Channel in small boats has sparked a new sense of crisis – among Tory MPs, at least – and has left the UK government struggling with an emergency housing shortage, an obstructed asylum and return system, and increasing costs to the taxpayer.

Worse, thousands of desperate newcomers find themselves trapped in inadequate housing for weeks, months or even years, unable to work, their future in limbo.

Conservative hardliner Suella Braverman is just the latest in a long line of British home secretaries to try – and, so far, fail – to tackle the problem.

“The system is broken,” Braverman told the House of Commons on Monday. “Illegal migration is out of control.”

Labour’s Home Secretary Yvette Cooper agreed urgent action was needed, but accused the Tory government of a near-total collapse in decision-making for asylum claims.

Monday’s debate focused on dangerous overcrowding at a specific asylum processing center in the south of England. Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said tuesday night the number of migrants at the Manston center had now been “significantly reduced”.

But the bigger picture is complex and bleak. Arrivals across the Channel are increasing steadily, from 8,400 in 2020 to 28,500 in 2021, and up to around 40,000 this year.

Ironically, experts say this is partly due to the success of previous crackdowns on illegal migrants in the back of trucks at the French border.

“One of the reasons why people think we have the small boat phenomenon in the first place is that it is the result of a successful application around truck terminals in northern France,” said Madeleine. Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford. “So if you close a route, you create pressure for people to explore new options.”

Europe’s crisis

Britain, of course, is only the last link in the chain.

The number of asylum seekers has increased across the EU in recent years, reaching levels not seen since the 2015 refugee crisis and straining processing systems across the continent. Lack of housing is an equally painful problem in countries like Austria, where the government has started housing refugees in tents.

Priti Patel, the former UK Home Secretary appointed in 2019, had pledged to make migration crossings an “infrequent occurrence” by the following spring. Having failed to achieve its goal, it has pledged to make the Channel an “unviable” route through a controversial plan to get UK border officials to start actively pushing back small boats. She was later forced to drop the proposal as unworkable.

Amazingly, over 100,000 asylum seekers are currently awaiting a decision from the Home Office, and while they wait in limbo they must be supported financially by the taxpayer as they are banned from working under the law. British.

Seemingly unable to either speed up the processing of asylum claims or stop the crossings themselves, successive secretaries of state have instead focused on the only other option available: removals.

In April 2022, the UK struck a £120million deal with Rwanda to relocate asylum seekers to the East African country. Seven months later, no returning flights have even left the runway amid a flurry of court challenges.

Patel also struck a bilateral deal with the Albanian government last year to speed up the return of Albanian nationals who fail to obtain asylum, after a sudden spike in arrivals from the Balkan nation. The Interior Ministry attributes the surge to family pull factors, specific targeting of Albanian smugglers and a new route to Europe via the Balkans.

British and Albanian officials and police are now working closely together to try to tackle migration flows at their source. Braverman told parliament the program had ‘had some success in getting people back to Albania in a fairly short period of time’, but admitted it had to ‘go further and faster’ to have any real impact.

In the years following the Brexit vote in 2016, successive Conservative governments had insisted that a patchwork of similar bilateral return agreements with EU countries would prove the ideal substitute for the migration system. at EU level, supposed to coordinate asylum applications between member countries. Britain opted out of this so-called Dublin convention when it left the wider bloc in 2020.

But no such agreement with EU countries has been signed.

EU member countries are resisting Britain’s demands that migrants be returned to the first country deemed safe they enter. Accepting this logic would force EU countries on the front lines of mass arrivals – such as Greece and others on the continent’s southern border – to accept even more asylum seekers into their already overcrowded systems.

The UK has engaged bilaterally with Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland on asylum – only to be told that he must speak directly to Brussels.

Although there is broad consensus that a new EU-UK migration pact is desirable, the outlook looks bleak, with London blaming the European Commission for not even wanting to open talks.

Internally and externally, migration remains the bloc’s most contentious issue, and as former British Prime Minister Liz Truss complained privately during her six weeks in office, it rarely receives sufficient attention during international summits.

Hopes for an agreement between the United Kingdom and France

With Rishi Sunak’s arrival at 10 Downing Street, hopes for a bilateral migration deal with France to improve Channel patrols and law enforcement are resurfacing.

Officials are expected to consider a draft deal that includes targets for intercepting boats in the English Channel and a minimum number of French people gendarmerie officials patrolling the northern shore of France.

The biggest price, however, would be for France to process asylum claims on French soil and for the UK to accept in return people with protection who express an interest in settling in Britain.

“If an agreement with France reduced the number of people crossing the Channel and meant that there were more people using a safe and orderly route, that could be attractive” for the UK, said Sumption of the Migration Observatory.

“People’s concern about this road isn’t just about the numbers, it’s about how people are getting there, the risks they’re taking and how difficult the government is to control it.”

Last week, Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed Channel crossings in their first phone conversation since the new prime minister took office, according to the British government. However, the problem was not mentioned in the French version of the appeal.

But years of deteriorating relations with successive British prime ministers, as well as a long-running row over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, have diminished Paris’ appetite for any bilateral deal with London.

A French diplomat said the UK had taken a more constructive approach on migration of late, and now “understands better” that it “cannot divide” EU member countries on the issue.

In the meantime, thousands more people continue to cross the English Channel every week.


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