The UK’s extreme new immigration plans, explained

Faced with an increase in migration across the Channel, the United Kingdom agreed on Friday to fund additional police services and a new detention center for migrants in northern France, to the tune of $576 million over three years. The deal, which builds on previous agreements between the UK and France, is the latest step by Britain’s right-wing government to tackle immigration and a sign of the Conservative Party’s growing desperation over the issue.

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

Under the terms of the new deal, announced at a Franco-British summit in Paris on Friday, the UK will not only fund a new migrant detention center in France, but an increased French police presence in the English Channel to intercept attempts crossing by boat. France is also expected to help fund enforcement efforts, but the French government has yet to release those details.

“The level of ambition in this plan is exactly what we need,” French President Emmanuel Macron said of the deal, stressing that “this is not an agreement between the United United and France but between the United Kingdom and the EU”.

Braverman’s bill, meanwhile, which was introduced in the House of Commons on March 7 and has yet to be voted on, would deport people arriving in the UK through irregular migration – mainly small boats crossing the English Channel – and prevent them from seeking asylum in the UK. The bill has been widely criticized as racist and legally burdensome, and the UN refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights have opposed it on human rights grounds. male.

As Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described on Twitterthe bill, if passed, would not only prevent asylum claims, it would exclude undocumented immigrants from Britain’s modern slavery protections, which provide support for victims of modern slavery and a framework for crack down on perpetrators.

“Most people fleeing war and persecution are simply unable to access the required passports and visas,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement responding to the announcement of the project. of law. “There are no safe and ‘legal’ routes available to them. Denying them access to asylum on this basis undermines the very purpose for which the Refugee Convention was established.

According to the Associated Press, migrants arriving in small boats – many from Albania, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria – often have the least access to conventional and safe routes to access the asylum system. But the UK’s legal asylum system is also overwhelmed, according to the University of Oxford’s Migration Watch, with a backlog of more than 100,000 cases affecting almost 150,000 people, some of whom apply with members of their family.

Sunak’s plan comes as the UK attempts to iron out its post-Brexit relationship with the European Union and France in particular after a blowout of a defense pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, which France considered a betrayal. France had resisted a UK proposal to send migrants back to France and have them seek asylum in the first safe country they enter, insisting such a policy could not be decided bilaterally. and was to be a decision between the UK and the EU.

If Sunak’s plan and Braverman’s proposal fail to reduce the number of people coming to the UK through irregular routes, some Tory MPs are pushing for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. which guarantees people the right to access asylum procedures and prevents countries from returning migrants to countries where their lives are in danger or where they would be subjected to torture.

The new plans won’t fix the UK’s immigration system

It is far from clear, however, that the Tory bill will significantly curb migration to the UK. According to Peter William Walsh, senior researcher at the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, “to date there is surprisingly little evidence that deterrent asylum policies deter people in large numbers, for the simple reason that asylum seekers often have little understanding of what the politicians will face after their arrival.

As Sunder Katwala, head of think tank British Future, told Hannah Moore of the Guardian, the number of 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 option available to these migrants is to pay a smuggler or group of smugglers to take them across the English Channel on dangerous and sometimes deadly journeys to try to claim asylum in the UK or find clandestine employment opportunities. .

Braverman’s proposal is based on the idea that they can simply be deported, taken elsewhere or detained. But that’s a pretty simplistic premise, Walsh said, and one that might not hold up in reality.

“On paper, the bill effectively removes the UK from the global asylum system as we know it, preventing people from applying for asylum if they arrive through irregular channels,” he said. declared to Vox by e-mail. “But when these people cannot be removed because they have nowhere to go (and this should be the case for most asylum seekers arriving by small boat), what happens to them? On the face of it, the bill appears to leave them permanently in the UK without rights, financially dependent on the state as they would not be allowed to work.

Sunak pledged to reduce backlogs in the UK immigration system by “drastically revamping the end-to-end process, with shorter advice, fewer interviews and less paperwork”, and “introducing social workers specialized by nationality”, as well as doubling the number of social workers focused on asylum applications, which had around 117,000 applications awaiting a first decision from the Ministry of the Interior in September 2022, according to the Migration Observatory.

Conservatives have a record of extreme immigration policies

The new immigration measures are not the Conservative government’s first radical immigration proposals; these are just the latest in a series of increasingly drastic and sweeping immigration measures imposed by Sunak’s Conservative Party.

Last April, the government set up a program to deport irregular asylum seekers to Rwanda to seek asylum. This plan, presented under the leadership of then Home Secretary Priti Patel, was ruled legal by the UK High Court; however, the European Court of Human Rights intervened and stopped the first flight of migrants from taking off for Rwanda last June, and no migrants were flown to Rwanda under this plan.

Braverman took over Patel’s post, first under former Prime Minister Liz Truss and then again under Sunak, and took up the baton of the Rwandan plan, although she admitted it wouldn’t happen “for a long time. “.

The legality of the move is currently being debated in court, but “even if the proposed Rwandan program gets up and running, it’s hardly a game-changer because the capacity in Rwanda is weak,” Walsh said.

Ultimately, Walsh tells Vox that, as draconian as the bill is, it’s basically also “a gamble: that the UK won’t actually need to impose this sanction on a lot of people because that the deterrent effect will be so strong”.

It’s something of an untested proposition, however. As Walsh told Vox, there’s no way to tell how effective the policies will be, “because they’re more extreme than the policies adopted in most other high-income countries where the evidence”. And in the United States, immigration policies such as Title 42 have done little to slow the pace of southern border arrests, which hit an all-time high in 2022.

If Braverman’s bill is passed and “people continue to arrive in the UK by small boat in large numbers, not being able to process and resolve their asylum claims could create operational chaos and significant financial costs “Walsh said.

Despite the potential problems, however, a recent poll shows small boat migration is a priority for a crucial constituency: Britons who voted Conservative in 2019. According to a new poll by Public First for UK universities, the shutdown Illegal migration via small boats has become the second most important issue for these voters more important than reducing wait times for surgeries with the National Health Service. This poll also indicates that voters are less concerned about legal migration and fixing the immigration system, which could help explain the extreme proposals Sunak’s government is pushing, without corresponding investment in the immigration system.

After 12 years in power, the Conservatives are at rock bottom; in a recent YouGov poll, only 17% of respondents said they would vote Conservative if there was a snap election, compared to 30% who said they would vote Labour. As such, winning back people who voted in a landslide for Boris Johnson to ‘get Brexit done’ is undoubtedly a priority for Britain’s Tories after the troubled tenures of Johnson, who resigned after inquiries on his administration’s failure to comply with Covid-19 restrictions, and Truss, whose administration lasted only six weeks.

Appealing to 2019 Conservative voters concerned about illegal migration and rekindling the UK’s relationship with France and the EU in the post-Brexit era are two crucial priorities for Sunak’s government. With the UK-France migration deal and Braverman’s migration proposal, the Conservative Party may have secured a short-term victory, without fixing the long-term immigration system.

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