Dhe Brexiteers’ promise to regain control of the border when they leave the EU has so far only been half fulfilled – and for many it is the less important half. Since February 2020, EU citizens have not been allowed to settle in the UK without a work visa, which has not least contributed to the labor shortage. Even if the system of legal migration is perceived as more transparent and fairer than before thanks to the new immigration law, illegal migration has gotten out of hand. The skyrocketing number of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats has also shown the pro-Brexit Britons that leaving the EU cannot solve all problems. In the case of the “boat migrants”, these are not rooted in Brussels, but in Paris, in Strasbourg and, last but not least, in London itself.
Most board on the French coast; some also on Belgian beaches. Their number has increased from around 8,000 in 2020 to more than 44,000 this year. Former British Home Secretary Priti Patel said in the summer that 70 per cent of arrivals should not be classified as “genuine asylum seekers” but as “economic migrants”. Many of them had previously applied in vain for asylum in an EU country, often in Germany. The “invasion” on the south coast of England – in the words of Patel’s successor Suella Braverman – would be stopped quickly if the French took back every migrant picked up by the British. The dangerous boat crossing would no longer be worthwhile, which would also benefit France in the medium term because fewer migrants would then travel into the country to cross the Channel. But taking back refugees was difficult to organize even before Brexit.
Many migrants are still waiting for a decision
In London, there is a suspicion that the French are tacitly condoning the system because most migrants eventually make the crossing and thus become the responsibility of Great Britain. Nevertheless, both capitals are expanding their cooperation. On Monday, the British increased payments to France to more than 70 million euros to make joint patrols on the Normandy beaches more effective. But hardly anyone believes in the lasting effect of this agreement. Although the gendarmes (with British help) thwart more illegal crossings every year, the number of successful canal crossings is growing even faster. It’s the same with the gangs of people smugglers: For every ring the police break up, at least one new ring is created.
With the origin of the trafficking gangs, the nationality of the migrants also changes. A good part of the business is now in Albanian hands. Accordingly, Albanian migrants now form the largest group. 42 percent of all migrants who have arrived on the English coast since May come from the south-eastern European country – 80 percent of them are men. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the next largest groups are Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis and Syrians, although estimation aspects must also be considered here, because many migrants destroy their passports before arriving in England. More than 50 migrants have drowned during the crossing in the past three years.
The Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) not only oblige the British authorities to accept asylum seekers, but also set standards for their treatment and legal procedures. Refugee organizations and lawyers who take care of the migrants are very familiar with the legal situation and its loopholes. In the last twelve-month period evaluated (until June 2022), more than three-quarters of all asylum seekers – including those who entered the country on visas or who entered the country via official quotas – received asylum status or were allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons.