The Centre for Policy Studies Report Stopping the Crossings recommends three approaches to solving the Channel crossing problem: to allow refugee entry only through resettlement schemes (limited to a maximum of 20,000 a year); to forcibly detain and deny refuge to those who arrive via any other route; and greater enforcement of border controls. To implement these approaches, the UK may have to leave the European Court of Human Rights.
The document does not merit consideration as a serious contribution to the problem of refugees making dangerous journeys to reach the UK. Its sole purpose is to discuss how best to punish those seeking refuge.
The report fails to address key problems
There is no analysis of the scale of the refugee problem worldwide or any attempt to place the UK within a global or European context. It expresses no desire to find solutions to the mass displacement of human beings, the UK’s contribution to this problem, or the role it might play in its solution. It treats the problem as a local issue, a matter of border control and one over which the UK has sole jurisdiction.
There is no recognition that the proposed actions may threaten our relationship within the international community or are in breach of international legal obligations. The writers’ disregard for humanitarian standards and norms is made very clear but the underlying assumption that the UK can do exactly as it pleases without any repercussions shows naivety.
The report does not account for the reasons people seek refuge in the UK (other than to repeat unevidenced right-wing tropes about the economic benefits of doing so). And so has nothing to offer in terms of potential approaches to prevention or reduction. It fails, completely, to demonstrate how refugees who have spent months crossing mountains, suffering abuse, living in camps along the north French coast or crossing the dangerous shipping channels of the Mediterranean or the Channel require harsher measures to ‘deter’ them from entering the UK. Yet tries to argue that deterrence will be effective.
Misuse of data and absence of information
While the report is heavy on data (and in the absence of time I will assume they have been faithfully reproduced) the data only serves, albeit unsuccessfully, to prop up arguments for a more punitive approach. The data was provided by Migration Watch, an organisation which exists solely to attack migration and those who undertake it into the UK. For example, it cites surveys that have indicated people are concerned about immigration, while ignoring those that suggest the country is far more tolerant and welcoming.
Migration Watch also cites the rise in the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats, but ignores the drop in the number of refugees arriving in the UK by plane or on the back of lorries. It does not provide the context for the rise, including Brexit and harsher measures both in the EU and in the UK.
Any data or information that most policy makers would consider a prerequisite for formulating a plan that might be successful is absent from this report. For example, data on conflicts, migration and refugee flows, overall numbers and trends, range of approaches to managing displacement, research on motivation and the costs of getting to the UK, and potential alternatives to fleeing their homelands.
A failed model
The Australian model on which the report relies, has only been ‘successful’ if the UK is content to become an international criminal and state pariah. Great numbers of people die, the costs are prohibitive and the reduction in numbers gaining access to Australia so small as to be questionable. Changes to the external environment and need for asylum were considerably more relevant in reducing numbers, and the fall was not sustained when these circumstances changed again.
The report also discusses the Australian model extensively without reference to the model’s failures, which have been considerable. Research on deterrence indicates that the report is not only wrong in its assumption that punitive deterrence will have a positive effect on numbers crossing the Channel, but also, deterrence measures may increase illegal and dangerous activity – as it has done to date.
Not only does the report base its proposals on a flawed model, but in doing so it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the push/pull factors for seeking asylum in Europe or the UK. It cites no research on the motivations or expectations of refugees, or their knowledge about the employment refugee and benefits systems in the UK. It ignores the now substantial body of evidence, including from the Home Office, that shows these factors (economic and legal) are irrelevant in understanding the rise in application numbers or preventing a swift return in ‘illegal’ cases.
Seeking blame in the wrong places
The report blames the European Court of Human Rights, human rights law and ‘lefty lawyers’ for successful asylum applications and appeals and delays in the system, without providing a shred of evidence for their assertions and without reference to any of the other reports that have identified and evidenced the problems more clearly.
It ignores immigration and borders inspection reports, which put the blame for late applications for bail, stopping deportations, or seeking a judicial review, firmly at the door of the immigration system. Inspection reports have found that poor information on entry into the UK and poor access to good quality legal advice is leading to late applications against deportation or asylum claims. In the absence of legal aid, many cases are not being dealt with by lawyers at all, until the appeal stage. Refugees are entirely reliant on volunteers to help them with their case until access to legal advice is obtained.
The backlog of cases is also due to the poor workings of Home Office and not the rise (which has only been marginal until this year) in number of applicants. The immigration inspectorate found that Home Office technology is so outdated and clunky, that decisionmakers have to reference over 100 different databases to navigate a case through the system. Immigration staff are only able to make decisions at a rate of 1.7 a week per member of staff. The rate of throughput is half the rate of the growth of the waiting list.
Asserting that the problems in the system are for reasons that have no bearing on the problem, while ignoring the well-evidenced causes (and accepted by the Home Office, if not the home secretary), is indicative of the authors’ deep ignorance of the system. Unless, of course, the intention is to mislead readers and to promote as facts things they know to be untrue. The writers make no attempt to provide the reader with information on which they could make good judgements about the merits of the report’s case.
Misunderstanding the law
In addition to having little understanding of human rights law, the writers are clearly ignorant of UK immigration law and, in particular, the Nationality and Borders Act (NBA) passed only this year. The report is arguing for changes to the law (recommendations 25, 26 and 31) around immediate detention and subsequent deportation without an asylum case being first considered. These changes are already enshrined in the NBA.
The report does not discuss where its proposals fit within existing legislation or the NBA, and it reads as though the authors are unaware of the changes. The NBA has yet to implemented and tested in the courts. Many elements of the act break international law and, as the courts are still subject to the Convention on Human Rights and the Refugee Convention (as both are enshrined in UK law), it is likely that the government will fail in part, if not all, of its implementation. This is the primary reason the government wants to withdraw from these conventions so that it is not bound by their provisions or the scrutiny of the courts.
However, no amount of legislative duplication, as the report urges, can make more legal that which is currently illegal. Shouting louder like a child who is not getting their way has no legislative impact. The writers’ failure to understand or reflect this is indicative of their ignorance and inexperience. More worryingly, the home secretary’s endorsement of the report indicates that she too may be equally ignorant.
The proposed measures are solely punitive and so are unlikely to work in reducing Channel crossings. This might not matter had it not been for the home secretary’s endorsement of the report. So glaring are the report’s weaknesses it is unlikely that it would have been treated as a credible contribution to solving the problem. It might have been a footnote in the right-wing press but it would not have been taken seriously beyond that.
And this is the worry. Braverman’s endorsement has meant it is being read and it is being given the coverage its quality does not deserve. There is not an ounce of humanity expressed or sought in any of the proposals. Asylum seekers are merely units (‘stock’) to be detained, punished and deported – at the lowest possible cost. It is a dangerous report.