The deaths of 27 people who drowned off the French coast near Calais yesterday are a tragedy. We might never know their names, their loves, their hopes for their futures, or the desperation that led them to risk such a perilous journey in search of safety. To this Government, they seem to represent a people group who must be stopped at all costs; denied their rights to live and love like the rest of us. To us they are our sisters and brothers, they are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, lovers, husbands and wives, friends and neighbours, daughters and sons.
One of the most tragic aspects of what happened on Wednesday afternoon was the fact that it was entirely predictable and preventable. Charities and human rights groups have been warning for some time now that in the absence of safe and legal routes to the UK, the number of dangerous Channel crossings would only increase. We have said this before and we shall say it again: only desperate people with no other options take to the busiest shipping lane in the world in fragile, flimsy dinghies. And only people who would never, ever be forced to contemplate such a thing would disbelieve or disregard a person’s need to do so.
We are sick and tired of this Government’s rhetoric on people seeking sanctuary and refugees. Our Government, abetted by parts of the UK media, has stoked such hostility and sought to ‘other’ people so completely that there are those in our society who simply shrug their shoulders at the news of people’s deaths.
This Government’s current approach to the Channel crossings has failed and will continue to fail. The Home Secretary’s repeated assertion that the forthcoming Nationality and Borders Bill will make the Channel crossings unviable is fanciful. The best and only workable solution to put people smugglers out of business is to create safe and legal routes for people to claim asylum in the UK. There are many and numerous reasons why people in France wish to claim asylum in the UK: they have family members in this country who they understandably wish to reunite with. Many speak English and have connections to the UK owing to our country’s colonial history.
As it stands, contrary to the mistruths this Government tells us the public, there are no existing safe and legal routes to the UK currently in operation. The Dubs Amendment, designed to allow unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Europe to be reunited with family members in the UK, was removed from the Brexit Bill. Despite assertions from the Government earlier this year that the UK would resettle 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan, Priti Patel conceded this month that the Government is not able to currently operationalise the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme owing to a lack of infrastructure and accommodation.
When Government ministers speak of safe and legal routes, know that there currently are none. As a result, we now face the absurd situation that for many people fleeing conflict or brutal dictatorships, the only way they can seek safety here is by putting their lives at risk in a fragile, flimsy dinghy in order to reach UK soil.
It bears repeating that the majority of displaced people in the world (86%) seek refuge in a country neighbouring their own. Three times as many people seek sanctuary in France as they do in the UK. The UK accepts less than 0.5% of the world’s refugee population. The number of people seeking sanctuary in this country fell by 18% in 2020. Nearly two thirds of people reaching the UK by crossing the Channel go on to be recognised as refugees. More people are leaving the UK than are arriving. Facts matter, especially in an era where reality is distorted, language is manipulated and false information is presented as fact.
What we are witnessing is not unprecedented. It is merely more visible, stoked by an ever growing hostility in this country and across Europe towards people seeking sanctuary.
The Nationality and Borders Bill currently making its way through Parliament seeks to criminalise and degrade people seeking sanctuary. Its proposition to send people to offshore processing centres is a dystopian one, worrying those of us who care to look back at historical tragedies and identify the ways that othering begins.
Each of us wants the same things for our lives: safety, to be able to live a life of fulfilment and joy, to protect the ones we love. No matter who we are, or where we were chanced to be born, we ought to be afforded the protection and dignity we deserve in order to live life in its fullness. As Christians, we are taught that each and every one of us is made in the image of God. We ought therefore to lament when our sisters and brothers are denied what so many of us take for granted, and act justly in the pursuit of a world that truly honours the preciousness of every life.
Take action today
We stand with JCWI and the recommendations they make. We urge you to write to your MP today, send them the JCWI briefing and ask them to:
Support Amendment 8 to the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill: Remove clauses that would grant lesser rights to recognised refugees who arrive spontaneously;
Support Amendment 11 to the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill: Remove provisions for offshore detention of asylum-seekers;
Immediately open the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and family reunion routes;
Introduce a humanitarian visa scheme so that people seeking safety in the UK can do so without risking their lives.