NJust a day after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced tougher measures against illegal migration, a boat accident in the English Channel changed the tone of the asylum debate. British Home Secretary Suella Braverman confirmed on Wednesday that at least four migrants drowned in the freezing sea after their rubber dinghy sank in the early hours of the morning. In a salvage operation, in which the Navy was also involved, 33 people were rescued; some were still in mortal danger on Wednesday.
The government and opposition expressed their condolences in the House of Commons. Braverman spoke of a “shattering” incident. He makes it even more urgent to put a stop to the criminal traffickers’ gangs and to stop the “deadly boat crossings”. In November last year, 27 people drowned after a boat capsized. Since January, more than 40,000 migrants have made the crossing to the Kingdom.
Sunak presented a five-point plan on Tuesday to curb illegal migration and speed up asylum procedures. An agreement with the government in Tirana is intended in particular to facilitate the deportation of Albanians. In addition, London wants to station 400 officers in Albania to receive asylum applications there; part is to be used at Tirana airport, from where many migrants start their journey to Western Europe. According to the government, 35 percent of all migrants who come to the Kingdom in boats are Albanians. Many claim to be victims of “modern slavery”, which has been the official reason for asylum since 2015. Since then, corresponding applications have quadrupled.
Sunak said migrants were “exploiting” the protection system from modern slavery. He therefore wants to “considerably increase” the hurdles for recognition. In the future, applicants will have to provide “objective evidence”: the “conjecture” will no longer suffice. Migrants who define themselves as victims of modern slavery would be brought back to Albania, from where they could make their claim. As a NATO member and candidate for EU membership, Albania is a “safe country,” said Sunak. This means that the “overwhelming majority” of asylum applications will be declared unfounded and “those people will be quickly returned”.
Sunak also wants to reduce the backlog of outstanding asylum decisions by the end of next year; around 150,000 people in the kingdom are currently waiting for a decision. The staff will be doubled and the process streamlined.
“We have to stop the boats.”
In a newspaper article on Wednesday, Sunak wrote of “fraud” and justified his motives for the procedure. “It’s unfair when our generosity is abused by people who come here illegally. It’s unfair to those who come here legally, and it’s also unfair to Brits who have followed the rules all their lives for others to take advantage of breaking the rules.” If decisive action isn’t taken now, it would The situation is only getting worse “because we are experiencing a global migration crisis and the outdated international asylum framework has not been put in place to deal with it”. The British are “rightfully angry,” wrote Sunak. “Enough is enough, we have to stop the boats. And we will.”
While many Tories are talking about a step in the right direction, some MPs do not go far enough with Sunak’s plans. They are backing a bill that would allow the UK to overrule the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This had prevented asylum seekers from being flown to Rwanda to complete their procedures there. Sunak supports the “Rwanda plan”, but has so far hesitated whether London should go into confrontation with the Strasbourg court.
Several ministers, including Braverman, want to ignore the court or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. A ruling from the UK High Court is expected next week, which – should government policy deem it lawful – is likely to be challenged before the ECtHR.