Socialist Worker

Border crossings, asylum and migration—the truth behind the headlines

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2765

A group of people thought to be migrants sit detained by Border Force officers in Kent last week.

A group of people thought to be migrants sit detained by Border Force officers in Kent last week. (Pic: Alamy)


The Tories are stepping up their attacks on people who cross the Channel to seek safety and a better life. Some 8,461 migrants made the crossing in 2020—a figure that has already been reached this year.

It shows how problems worldwide are forcing people to leave their homes. And we need to defend their right to come here.

Home secretary Priti Patel has previously pledged to make Channel ­crossings “unviable”, with new legislation that will make it a crime to knowingly arrive in Britain without permission.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently being pushed through parliament, will mean migrants entering without permission could face up to four years in prison.

But the total number of asylum ­seekers applying in Britain has dipped by three times since it hit over 60,000 in the early 2000s.

Asylum seeker dies as a result of Tories’ immigration policy
Asylum seeker dies as a result of Tories’ immigration policy
  Read More

So when Patel claims the system “can’t cope” or “is overwhelmed” it’s a lie.

And even if more refugees were ­looking to seek asylum, there should be the infrastructure in place to support them all.

A bureaucratic asylum system, derelict accommodation and a racist ­government await those who have travelled a long and deadly journey, ­escaping horrors, to get to safety.

War, poverty and persecution explain why thousands flee to Britain.

But ministers demonise vulnerable migrants, who provide them with a scapegoat for the problems the Tories and their system have caused.

Despite Patel’s protests, refugees can’t just “go home” to war-torn countries where they face death or torture.

One refugee who escaped Yemen told Socialist Worker he was forced to leave in April 2018.

He spent three years on the Greek island of Chios in the “jungle” camp and then travelled to Britain where he was recently given refugee status.

“Yemen has been witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world for five or six years because of war,” he said.

“There are many problems and the country has been divided. Militias are controlling different parts of Yemen.

“If anyone opposes them because of thoughts or beliefs they can be exposed to persecution and death. Sometimes they’re jailed for long times or, they’re tortured. Many people in Yemen have to leave to escape the situation or start a new life in other countries.”

The refugee explained that in his 40s, “I didn’t imagine that I’d leave my own country.

“But the situation in Yemen meant I had to leave, I had no choice.”

To claim asylum in Europe for refugee status, asylum seekers have to get here. But travelling by lawful routes often requires visas—and there are no visas available for those fleeing persecution.

A tiny number of refugees are ­permitted to resettle from refugee camps. Just one percent worldwide are granted refugee status through this method.

Patel wants to push migrants back over Europe’s borders. Despite what the Tories say, neither the 1951 Refugee Convention nor EU law requires a refugee to claim asylum in the first safe country in which they arrive.

The EU’s Dublin Regulations allows one EU country to require another to accept responsibility for an asylum claim, but Britain is no longer bound by this.

Claims that the system is clogged by endless cases is another myth.

The system is clogged because of deliberate delays by the Home Office. Applications have dropped, but wait times have gone up.

Fleeing torture for being a political opponent, or running from a death sentence for being LGBT+ won’t stop because of Patel’s laws.

Refugees who come to Britain don’t “choose” it as a “preferred” destination—otherwise, the majority would choose to settle here.

In reality refugees come because they have family here, or because they have an understanding of English.

Patel also attempts to create a divide between good and bad migrants, ­pretending to be acting in the interests of those she deems genuine.

Every asylum seeker is looking for a new and better life and if that includes a job, home and family they should have the right to access this.

The majority of asylum seekers do not have the right to work, so are forced to rely on state support.

Allowance is currently set at £39.63 per person, per week. Asylum seekers are left in limbo, dehumanised while they wait for news from the Home Office for weeks, months and even years.

We’re told that a few thousand refugees crossing the English Channel cause problems for ordinary people, from wasting money to stealing jobs.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Big business was handed hundreds of billions during the pandemic to keep profit flowing.

The collective wealth of the world’s billionaires exploded by more than 60 percent last year from £5.8 trillion to £9.5 trillion.

Three obscenely wealthy men compete to spend money on spaceships. It’s not refugees who are robbing ordinary people, it’s top bosses and their system.

We have to fight to inform people about the reality of the asylum system and why people are making the ­dangerous journey, with no legal route.


Patel forces migrants into unsafe situations

Priti Patel proclaims that due to the numbers of people dying trying to cross the Channel, action must be taken to prevent asylum seekers from falling into the hands of smugglers.

Smugglers exist because of the laws that prevent other routes to asylum.

Around 300 asylum seekers have died in the last 20 years making the journey.

Yet in 2020 five times as many asylum seekers died in Home Office accommodation than the official number who died trying to cross the Channel that year.

And for smugglers, closing off the amount of legal and safe routes will only see more people relying on alternative routes.

Hoping to deter migrants from making the crossing fails to understand why people take such risks making the journey to asylum.

Tories will make rescuing refugees a crime
Tories will make rescuing refugees a crime
  Read More

Hossein escaped from Iran in 2015.

He told Socialist Worker that because of his family’s politics, his father was executed, and his brother was taken by the government in the middle of the night.

He was only 14 or 15 at the time. His mother and uncle arranged for him to be passed onto smugglers.

After being smuggled through multiple countries, Hossein ended up in Dunkirk after around ten days.

“I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “In the refugee ‘Jungle’ people explained that I was in France. I stayed there for ten months trying to come to Britain. It was really hard.

“There was no food, unless volunteers brought it, and when sleeping in the jungle you never know if you’re going to wake up. Every night I was trying to cross to Britain every way possible.”

Eventually, Hossein made it in a freezer truck. “The truck was minus 18 to 20 degrees Celsius, it was really cold,” he said.

“I remember praying, saying I hope the driver wakes up to tell us to go back to the jungle. I was freezing to death. In Calais they did checks and I remember I felt so happy because I thought we’d got caught.

“But they shut the door because they saw too much cold smoke and probably thought there’s no way anyone would go in there.”

Hossein was inside the freezer for some 15 hours. “Another two minutes and I would’ve been dead,” he recalled. I couldn’t move, I was frozen.

“When I think about how I survived, I don’t know—it always feels unbelievable.”

The risks asylum seekers take to get to Britain shows their fear of what they are fleeing and the determination to find some safety.


More police spells disaster for refugees in France

The Tories have now made a £54.2 million deal with France in an attempt to reduce the number of crossings. It will fund a doubling of police patrolling beaches in France.

This follows a £28.2 million deal last November.

Numbers in Calais have dropped since the jungle was demolished in October 2016. Attempts to build temporary and smaller camps or settlements are ripped apart by aggressive French police or the CRS—militarised riot police.

Their batons, boots and tear gas are boosted by British government funding.

There is a systematic attempt to make life as hard as possible for refugees who are on the last part of their journey.

Over 2,000 refugees die after EU state pushbacks
Over 2,000 refugees die after EU state pushbacks
  Read More

Constant police harassment makes it impossible to settle in one place. Regulations, such as food distribution being banned in Calais town centre, make it hard to help the dispersed migrants.

Boulders and stoppers are put up to prevent refugees from sleeping in shop doorways or covered areas.

Under bridges it’s impossible to put up a tent, as steel barriers are erected.

Huge fences close off an area that was once a settlement and following an eviction, bulldozers flatten the area.

The idea is to make people disappear.

Alex Cupid works as a volunteer in Calais. He told Socialist Worker, “It’s common to see refugees walking down the road and stopped by the police for no reason, or beaten up.

“People’s things are thrown into the back of removal trucks during raids. One man had medication in his bag that he needed, we had to help him find more.

“The police have no mercy. They try to move people on, but they end up just coming back after the eviction.

“They even cut down trees and burn tall grass to stop people feeling safe, so they don’t have shelter.”

Simon Shaw is an NEU union member and a long time volunteer with refugees in Calais. Simon explained, “It’s very difficult to distribute aid”.

“A lot of time is spent looking for people who are dispersed. Every time they settle somewhere new, they’re moved on.”

Raids happen “at the most inconvenient times—so refugees get little sleep. The CRS come at 3 or 4 am and slash tents.”

Simon explained that despite the Channel being the busiest shipping lane in the world, many choose this over being in the back of a truck or walking through the train tunnel.

“It’s brutal,” Simon said. “The Tories don’t get it—it’s do or die. You don’t put a child in the sea unless the water is safer than the land.”


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