‘We must resist the race to the bottom on the rhetoric whipped up against migrant and refugee communities, fight for a just and humane migrant and refugee system, and say, proudly, refugees are welcome here – no one is illegal’
By Patrick Foley, Labour Outlook
Today, hundreds gathered outside Parliament and the Home Office to mark the anniversary of the 32 refugees who lost their lives crossing the Channel to find refuge in the UK. Passengers on the small inflatable craft died in the early hours of the morning a year ago today as their boat began to take on water and capsized.
The vigil comes only days after published call logs detail deliberations between the British and French coastguard and border agencies and their response to mayday calls from the craft. From the evidence published to date, it seems that both were aware of the boat’s position, and argued about responsibility for the rescue operation as passengers fought for their lives. The bodies of the victims were recovered hours after the initial call for help. There is an ongoing Marine Accident Investigation into the deaths, but it has yet to conclude.
Addressing Rishi Sunak in yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake, said
“Tomorrow marks one year since 32 people lost their lives in the channel. New evidence suggests that the boat reached British waters and that the French and British authorities knew that it was in distress for a very long time. Families are still waiting for answers from the marine accident investigation branch.”
“Why has this investigation taken so long? Will the Prime Minister commit to a full public inquiry afterwards, and does he concede that this would not have happened if there were safe and legal routes into the UK?”
The reasons for the increase in dangerous boat crossings are widely attributed to the Government’s strategy of shutting down safe and legal routes into the country. Outside bespoke schemes such as for Ukraine and Afghanistan, there are no safe legal routes to claim asylum in Britain. In defiance of international law, the Government’s Nationality and Borders Act criminalises any refugee attempting to enter the country through a non-conventional route – whatever the purpose of their travelling to the UK.
On the morning of Blake’s question, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman struggled to explain how someone not applying through a country-specific scheme might enter the country legally. In a hearing of the Home Affairs Select Committee, a Conservative MP, Tim Loughton asked what the safe and legal route for him to come to the UK would be if he were a 16 year old orphan from an East African country, escaping a war zone and religious persecution, and had a sibling living here legally. Braverman was unable to answer.
The truth is that outside tailored schemes, there are none. The campaign group, Care for Calais, and the PCS union have collaborated on proposals to create a legal route into the UK with an ‘asylum visa’ which would allow prospective asylum applicants to board a plane or boat to travel to the UK to make the application. Such proposals should be supported alongside all those campaigning to increase the safe and legal routes into the country.
The 32 lives lost a year ago today are the unacceptable cost of this Government’s approach to the migrant and refugee crisis – a crisis that will only get worse as the climate emergency bites, and war and instability wrack the globe. We must resist the race to the bottom on the rhetoric whipped up against migrant and refugee communities, fight for a just and humane migrant and refugee system, and say, proudly, refugees are welcome here – no one is illegal.