×

Search form

#RefugeesWelcome on the white cliffs of dover
Dangerous journeys

Why are people risking their lives to cross the English Channel?

The tragic drownings of 27 people, including three children and a pregnant woman, demonstrates the increasingly dangerous decisions people are making in search of safety, and the need for safe and legal routes into the country. This is the highest number of deaths on the channel on record. 

The growing number of people risking their lives to cross one of the world's busiest shipping lanes in small dinghies is a clear sign of desperation.

We shed some light on the situation.

Why are people risking their lives to cross the English Channel?

There are many reasons why people are forced to leave their homes, from fleeing war and persecution or escaping famine and poverty. 

Many have endured intense hardship to make it this far, for example, those who travel through Libya are at risk of abuse, sexual violence and exploitation along their journeys. If people do manage to reach the shores of the UK, they are already extremely vulnerable.

Traditional legal avenues for refugees have been severely disrupted following the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2021, the UK ended its the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), which offered safety to 20,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian crisis over the last five years.

Why don’t we use the word Migrant and the term migrant crossings?

You may have seen news outlets and media refer to people who make the channel crossings as ‘migrants’. But, we believe language matters. It’s important that people are not reduced to one term. This is an act of dehumanising them. Instead, it’s important to remember that these are fellow human beings. Men, women and children who have the same hopes and dreams as you and I. That’s why we choose to use the term people, not migrants.

For more on legal definitions. 

 

 

But why the UK? Why not stay in France which is a safe country? 

People choose to make the Channel crossing for a myriad of reasons, whether it's the fact that they already speak English or to join family members who are already living there.

More than 21,000 people have made the crossing to the UK so far this year, more than double the total for the whole of 2020. The fact that a growing number of people are risking their lives to cross one of the world's busiest shipping lanes in small dinghies is a clear sign of desperation. The tragic drowning of 27 people, including three children and a pregnant woman, demonstrates the increasingly desperate and dangerous decisions that people are being driven to make in their search for safety. 

What are the current rules for seeking asylum in the UK?

It is important to remember that it is not illegal to seek asylum in the UK. The 1951 Refugee Convention, of which the UK is a signatory, stipulates that people can seek asylum in any country they choose. Once people arrive in the UK, they’ll go through a rigorous process during which their asylum cases are assessed before being allowed to remain. 

The numbers of people seeking safety are entirely manageable for a rich and stable continent like Europe, and all countries must live up to their global responsibilities to protect refugees and uphold the right to asylum.

What is clear is that the absence of safe and legal routes for seeking asylum in the UK, is an incentive to people smugglers, and human traffickers, pushing people to take greater risks.

Can the UK manage the numbers of new arrivals? 

We must not buy into the false narratives that the UK is under threat from an ‘invasion’ of people. In fact, the numbers of asylum seekers in the UK are manageable.

It is important to have a sense of perspective. Though a record number of people have made the crossing from France to the UK this year - showing the need for safe routes - the number of refugees and asylum seekers in the country is relatively small, considering that 85% of the world’s refugees are living in countries neighbouring their country of origin.

What needs to be done?

There are a number of simple measures that the UK can adopt to help alleviate this situation and prevent more deaths. People seeking safety should not be forced to make life-threatening journeys in order to seek asylum, which is why safe and legal routes must be urgently established. The Government should also invest in the asylum system so that all claims are heard quickly and fairly.

The IRC is calling for an urgent change in approach. Politicians must stop turning human tragedy into political point-scoring. It is time to move away from the model of deterrence, which has already caused untold human misery, and towards cooperation between European countries.