The UK’s extreme new immigration plans, explained

Amid a rise in migration across the English Channel, the UK on Friday agreed to fund additional policing and a new detention center for migrants in northern France worth $576 million over three years. The deal, which builds on earlier agreements between the UK and France, is the latest move by the right-wing UK government to tackle immigration and a sign of the Conservative Party’s growing desperation on the issue.

After exploding in 2020, the number of migrants entering the UK across the Channel, going from just 300 to 8,500 in just two years, it hit new heights in 2022 with 45,000 new arrivals. In response, not only is Britain stepping up cooperation with France on immigration, but UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman introduced a draconian new bill this week that would deny people arriving via irregular migration the right to seek asylum.

Under the terms of the new deal, announced at a UK-France summit on Friday in Paris, Britain will not only fund a new detention center for migrants in France, but also an increased French police presence in the English Channel to intercept attempted boat crossings . France is also expected to contribute funds to the enforcement effort, but the French government has not yet released those details.

“The ambition of this plan is exactly what we need,” French President Emmanuel Macron said of the deal, stressing that “this is not a UK-France deal, it’s a UK-EU deal.”

The Braverman bill, tabled in the House of Commons on March 7 and pending a vote, would deport people arriving in the UK via irregular migration channels – mainly small boats crossing the English Channel – and bar them from seeking asylum in Great Britain. The bill has been widely criticized as racist and legally objectionable, and both the UN refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights have objected on human rights grounds.

As further described by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak TwitterIf passed, the law would not only prevent asylum claims, it would exclude undocumented immigrants from Britain’s modern slavery protections, which support victims of modern slavery and provide a framework to crack down on perpetrators.

“Most people fleeing war and persecution simply do not have access to the necessary passports and visas,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement announcing the draft law. “There are no safe and ‘legal’ ways available to them. Denying them access to asylum on this basis undermines the very purpose for which the Refugee Convention was created.”

Migrants arriving in small boats — many from Albania, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, according to the Associated Press — are often those with the least access to conventional, secure routes to gain entry into the asylum system. But the UK’s legal asylum system is also overwhelmed with a backlog of more than 100,000 cases, affecting nearly 150,000 people, some with family members, according to the Oxford University Migration Observatory.

Sunak’s plan comes as Britain seeks to iron out its post-Brexit relationship with the European Union, and France in particular, after a defense pact between Australia, the US and Britain was blown up in what France saw as a betrayal. France had opposed the UK’s proposal to send migrants back to France and let them apply for asylum in the first safe country they enter, insisting that such a policy could not be decided bilaterally and a decision between the UK Kingdom and the EU must be.

Should Sunak’s plan and Braverman’s proposal fail to address the number of people entering the UK via irregular routes, some Conservative MPs are insisting that Britain withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees people’s right to access asylum procedures and prevents countries from blocking it to send migrants back to countries where their lives are in danger or where they would be tortured.

The new plans will not fix the British immigration system

However, it is far from clear that the Conservatives’ bill will significantly curb migration to the UK. According to Peter William Walsh, Senior Researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, “To date there is surprisingly little evidence that asylum deterrence policies deter people in large numbers, for the simple reason that asylum seekers often have little understanding of what policies are going to do face them upon their arrival.”

As Sunder Katwala, head of think tank British Future, told the Guardian’s Hannah Moore, boat crossings increased during the Covid-19 pandemic because other methods of travel were unavailable. Now channel crossings are “an established and institutionalized route,” Katwala said. The best available option for these migrants is to pay a smuggler or group of smugglers to take them across the English Channel on unsafe and sometimes fatal journeys to try to claim asylum in the UK or find covert employment opportunities.

Braverman’s proposal is based on the idea that they can simply be deported, transferred elsewhere, or imprisoned. But that’s a pretty simple premise, Walsh said, and one that may not stand up to reality.

“On paper, the bill effectively removes the UK from the global asylum system as we know it, by preventing people from applying for asylum if they arrive via irregular routes,” he told Vox via email. “But if these people can’t be taken away because they have nowhere to go (and that’s probably the case for most asylum seekers who come in small boats), what happens to them? At first glance the law appears to leave them permanently without rights in the UK, financially dependent on the state because they would not have the right to work.”

Sunak has pledged to cut backlogs in Britain’s immigration system by “radically revamping the end-to-end process, with shorter guides, fewer interviews and less paperwork” and “introducing specialist caseworkers by nationality,” as well as doubling the number of caseworkers focused on asylum applications, which, according to the Migration Observatory, included around 117,000 applications awaiting an initial decision by the Interior Ministry by September 2022.

The Tories have a track record of extreme immigration policies

The new immigration measures are not the Tory government’s first tough immigration proposals; they are just the latest in a series of increasingly drastic, uncompromising immigration policies being pushed by Sunak’s Conservative Party.

Last April, the government introduced a program to deport irregular asylum seekers to Rwanda to apply for asylum there. This scheme, introduced under then Home Secretary Priti Patel, was ruled legal by the UK Supreme Court; However, the European Court of Human Rights intervened and prevented the first migrant flight to Rwanda from taking off last June, and no migrants were sent to Rwanda under the plan.

Braverman took over Patel’s position, first under former Prime Minister Liz Truss and then again under Sunak, and took the torch on the Rwanda plan, although she conceded it would not happen “for a long time”.

The legality of this measure is currently being debated in court, but “even if the proposed Rwanda program gets off the ground, it does little to change the picture given the low capacity in Rwanda,” Walsh said.

Ultimately, Walsh tells Vox that the bill, draconian as it is, is also, at heart, “a gamble: that the UK doesn’t really have to impose this penalty on a lot of people because the deterrent effect is going to be so strong”.

However, that is an untested claim. As Walsh told Vox, there’s no way of telling how effective the guidelines will be “since they’re more extreme than the guidelines that are being rolled out in most other high-income countries, where the evidence is coming from.” And in the US, immigration policies like Title 42 have done little to slow the pace of southern border arrests, which were reported at record highs in 2022.

If Braverman’s law is passed and “people continue to arrive in the UK in significant numbers on small boats, the inability to process and resolve their asylum claims could create significant operational chaos and financial costs,” Walsh said.

Despite the potential problems, however, recent polls show that small-boat migration is a priority for one crucial constituency: Britons, who voted Tory in 2019. Stopping illegal migration via small boats has become the second most important issue for these voters, ahead of reducing wait times for operations at the National Health Service, according to a new Public First poll of universities in the UK. This poll also shows that voters are less concerned about legal migration and repairing the immigration system, which may help explain the extreme proposals Sunak’s government is pushing without adequate investment in the immigration system.

After 12 years in power, the Tories are at rock bottom; In a recent YouGov poll, just 17 percent of respondents said they would vote Conservative in a snap election, compared to 30 percent who said they would vote Labor. So winning back people who voted for Boris Johnson in a landslide victory to “get Brexit done” is no doubt a priority for Britain’s Conservatives after Johnson’s difficult tenure following investigations into his disregard of Covid-19 restrictions resigned by his government, and by Truss, which lasted only six weeks.

Appealing to 2019 Tory voters concerned about illegal migration and revitalizing the UK’s ties with France and the EU in the post-Brexit era are both crucial priorities for Sunak’s government. With the UK-France migration deal and Braverman’s migration proposal, the Tory party may have won a short-term victory without fixing the immigration system in the long-term.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *