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Dangerous journeys

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

The tragic drownings of four people, including two children, with a third reported missing this week, demonstrates the increasingly dangerous decisions people are making in search of safety. 

Nearly four times as many people have arrived in the UK in small boats this year compared to 2019. A 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.

It’s really difficult for people to apply for asylum in the UK unless they are already in the country. Meanwhile, traditional legal avenues for refugees have been severely disrupted. The UK froze its refugee resettlement scheme in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, denying thousands of refugees access to the UK.

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.

Nearly four times as many people have arrived in the UK in small boots this year compared to 2019. 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 drownings of four people, including two children, with a third reported missing, demonstrates the increasingly desperate and dangerous decisions that people are being driven to make in their search for safety. 

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. 

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 arrivals by boat have gone up in recent weeks, 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.

It is essential that the UK continues its commitments to safe and legal routes, to prevent people from making these desperate and dangerous decisions. This can be done through ramping up pre-existing avenues such as refugee resettlement and family reunion. After Brexit, the UK must agree a replacement for the Dublin arrangements with the EU that allow the most vulnerable refugees including unaccompanied children, who have a connection in the UK the opportunity to find protection here.