Pushing Refugees Into Danger and Illegality

The Illegal Migration Bill depicts irresponsible refugees who appear to take great pleasure in sneaking into the UK in perilous little boats. Its stated goal is to stop refugees from using these risky and unlawful methods to enter the UK. However, the plot is not as simple as it seems. The Bill actually attempts to make the illegality and danger that it is intended to stop worse.

Even though voters and governments may not like it, irregular migration is a reality in the modern world. No nation is safe from it. Less well known is the impact of government immigration laws on the irregular movement patterns of refugees. It is abundantly obvious from the evidence that ‘tough’ measures that make life more difficult for refugees in the UK have little impact on the number of migrants that arrive.

However, not always in the way that was intended, certain policies do have an effect. This fact contributes to the explanation of how the “small boats” scenario in the UK came about. The 1980s and 1990s are where the story begins. As the number of people claiming to be refugees increased, certain governments in Europe and North America tightened visa requirements on nations that produce refugees. As a result, more refugees began to migrate in greater numbers to nations that did not require visas. The “beggar my neighbour” effect was put an end to when other nations imitated and placed their own visa requirements on nations that produce refugees.

Did that prevent refugees from coming? In no way. Instead, they were compelled to seek safety by using illicit means of transportation. Some people persisted in flying in, but they could only do so by presenting fraudulent identification. Others used erratic land trips, frequently employing smuggling methods. Routes that were formerly safe and lawful turned dangerous and possibly illegal. In the UK, this frequently involved sneaking across the Channel by jumping the Eurostar train or hiding in the back of a truck. But when France tightened controls beginning in 2020—partially in response to Brexit and COVID-19 restrictions—these possibilities became more limited.

From this point on, the number of refugees arriving in small boats in the UK exponentially rises. A extremely risky route is the Channel crossing. But even if France were to be successful in closing this route (as a pricey recent agreement with the UK promises), history indicates that this will only compel anxious migrants to find alternative, probably riskier routes to safety in the UK. Other appropriate coastlines may be chosen in France, the Netherlands, or elsewhere. Instead of ending illegal immigration to the UK, closing this one point of crossing will cause irregular pathways to change.

It may seem odd that the Illegal Migration Bill seeks to refuse asylum to refugees arriving by small boats on the very same grounds given the role that these prior government policies played in compelling refugees seeking shelter in the UK to go by illegal and risky means. Claims by the government that it is waiting to end illegal migration before creating “safe and legal” routes for such refugees seem a bit disingenuous given that the practical effect of “stopping the boats” from France will likely be to reorient and imperil rather than stop illegal migration routes into the UK.

Additionally, the Illegal Migration Bill runs the risk of essentially substituting one form of illegality with a different, possibly more serious, one. There is no question that the refugees travelling in small boats are irrational. However, they are very conspicuous; in fact, it is probably because of their appearance that they are such a high-profile political issue. They don’t strive to hide, nor are they hidden. These vessels do not attempt to elude UK Navy or immigration services interceptions; instead, they welcome them. The majority of travellers want to immediately present themselves to the authorities so they can properly request refugee protection.

But if someone arrives by tiny boat, the Bill eliminates all chance of them being accepted as a refugee. These refugees will be held in detention with the goal of sending them to a “safe third country.” The current strategy is Rwanda. They will never have their refugee status recognised in the UK because their refugee claims will not be resolved there. They won’t have an immigration status or the ability to work if freed on bail. Many migrants might end up staying in these conditions for an extended period of time due to the logistical challenges of relocating large numbers of refugees to “safe third countries,” according to some estimates.

This strategy appears to be intended to push refugees into criminality, just like former policy. However, this time it happens once they touch down here rather than on their way to the UK. When there is no chance of protection, only detention and lack of status, why would a refugee cooperate with authorities in good faith upon arrival or after? Why not just disappear into irregularity if released on bail? The Bill appears to provide perverse incentives for refugees who enter this country illegally to remain hidden rather than come out and wait legitimately for the outcome of their claim.

Therefore, the Bill essentially creates a highway from illegality outside the UK to illegality inside the UK. The former is primarily the responsibility of whatever nation the refugee passes through. However, once it results in an increase in disillusioned and dissatisfied persons residing illegally in the UK, it poses genuine risks to our own society in terms of security, public health, and poverty, as well as making it easier for criminal gangs to abuse and exploit immigrants. Refugees have always contributed greatly to our nation. This result would be a devastating loss of skill and life.

As seen by the Ukraine and Hong Kong programmes from the previous year, the UK can undoubtedly be kind to those whose lives are in danger. Comparatively speaking, the numbers of small boat entries are not very high, and the UK receives relatively few refugees per capita compared to other comparable nations. However, it is unlikely that the Illegal Migration Bill will “stop the boats.” Even worse, it might force refugees into riskier and more perilous levels of criminality both inside and beyond the UK. This approach to solving the problems brought on by newly arrived immigrants escaping persecution is neither rational nor humanitarian.

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Written by:

Tahir Shahab Khan

Managing Director

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