It's not exactly fresh news that the number of migrants crossing the Channel in rubber dinghies has soared since the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted safer routes via road vehicles and ferries. The National Crime Agency has revealed that migrant smugglers have cut prices for crossing the Channel to as little as £450 to cram more people in boats. By the end of August 2020, there had been 5000 asylum seekers attempting to reach the UK from France, more than double the number during the whole of 2019. Consequently, Priti Patel has vowed to make this journey across the Channel ‘unviable’ to prevent the number of migrants reaching the UK ‘illegally’ from increasing, and has warned the smuggling gangs – “we’re coming for you”.
Last month, the Home Office announced plans to deploy Navy ships to intercept refugee boats, preventing them from reaching UK soil. Since then, the Government’s plans to tackle the ‘migrant crisis’ have become even more controversial.
Patel also announced plans to process asylum seekers on overseas territories like Ascension and St Helena, located in the South Atlantic over 4000 miles away from the UK. The Foreign Office have assessed the practicality of transferring migrants from the UK to the islands and have subsequently decided not to proceed. But even the consideration of ‘offshoring’ migrants has received backlash from members of the opposition for its’ inhumanity, impracticality, and expense.
Patel also proposed to buy retired ferries and ships to convert into asylum processing centres. The cost of this strategy makes it even more ludicrous than the offshoring policy; ships hosting between 1400-2400 people could cost between £6-116 million to buy and even more to convert.
These new policies for processing asylum seekers in the UK would be even more inhumane and expensive for the tax payer than the current system. Asylum seekers are currently prohibited from working, but accommodated in hostels or shared flats and allowed £37.75 per week. Hence, the Government may not be spending enough on ensuring that migrants can safely migrate and assimilate in the UK, but wasting millions on converting old ships or offshoring vulnerable families is not the answer.
In January, the UK will no longer be able to return migrants to France, like they currently can under EU law. Despite the promises of Brexit bringing more control over borders, the Government are only just starting to realise that no law can prevent migrants desperately crossing the Channel to seek asylum. This panic amongst the Conservative Party has resulted in more authoritarian policies towards migrants, and this can only worsen as December 31st approaches.