Albert Einstein, a German Jew, Nobel laureate, and renowned physicist who fled to America for safety said of the Jewish Holocaust: – I am almost ashamed to be living in such peace while all the rest struggle and suffer.
Many right thinking British living in comfort and safety would no doubt think the same as did Einstein, but it is regrettable that there are still those who think of foreign nationals coming to our shores as no more than economic migrants, a perception fuelled also by the mass media. A logical approach is necessary on the issue of migration to Britain.
Economic migrants or persons seeking refuge for fear of persecution?
I find it difficult to comprehend that those prepared to risk life and limb, by crossing the choppy waters of the channel in the dead of night, in freezing waters, many with children and babies, do so only for economic benefit and not because they are fleeing for their lives from their country where there have been persecuted, or risk future persecution if returned. If the motive was only economic, and for a better life in the West, would most foreign nationals take such drastic measures? If they were poor and seeking a better lifestyle, how could they or their families afford to pay smugglers up to £10,000 for the risk? How could they afford to have mobile phones, and be seen as well-dressed (as most of them do), when arriving at our shores?
More men than women arriving on boats
It is also said that many of those who risk their lives to arrive at our shores, are men, and the disproportionality of men fleeing over women, some cynics say is indicative of such persons being in the main economic migrants and not true refugees fleeing persecution. Cynics may ask then “but where are the women?” Again, I believe in a balanced approach. So how about looking at the other side of the coin, that it is men who are the head of the household in many of these Islamic states, they are in the main the breadwinners, out and about every day, more likely therefore to be involved in confrontation with the authorities or with agents of the authorities, with issues recognised by the Geneva Convention, and that women in the main as housewives, are not harmed, and if the men manage to settle as recognised refugees in Britain, they will call for their wives and children on the basis of family reunion principles enshrined in our law. So, there may be a host of reasons why it is mostly (certainly not exclusively) men seen on these flimsy crossing dinghies and boats. To otherwise jump to conclusions is a dangerous step to take.
An educated university lecturer in Teheran who fled Iran– was he an economic migrant? — Why would he want to come to Britain instead of staying in France a safe third country?
I have read the plight of an Iranian ( see the Times 31st December 2018), who was a lecturer at the University of Teheran, who had made two previous unsuccessful attempts to cross the channel from France, each time being chased back by French border control officers and returned to the Calais jungle from where he will attempt again, and as many times as possible, to gain entry to our shores, as his wife and two children with the assistance of agents were smuggled to the UK two years previously, and live in Manchester where they claimed asylum. He had political problems as a lecturer with the regime. His life was in danger. He left Iran and has been on the run ever since. Was he an economic migrant? I don’t believe so. He said to the times in interview I would rather die than return to Iran. Why would he want to come to Britain? Because this is where his family is living. He had a respectable and well-paid job as a lecturer at Tehran University, the best university in Iran some may say. Furthermore, some may also say why can he not stay in France a safe third country, and why does he need to come to Britain? The answer is his family are here; he was to join his wife and two children and to live as a family here. There is a reason therefore why he does not want to claim asylum in France, notwithstanding that it is a safe third country to do so in.
Perception that all foreign nationals prefer Britain rather than other European countries where they can claim asylum. — Is Britain a soft touch?
Furthermore, there is a perception that all foreign nationals fleeing their countries for whatever reason are heading for Britain. This simply is not true. Britain certainly takes a proportion of those fleeing to the West, but so do other European countries. I refer for example to Germany for example, which a few years ago opened its borders to anyone entering the country, and the intake was over 1 million within a matter of weeks. Also, those who do want to come to Britain do so because either they have family or relatives here as opposed to elsewhere, or because they have been treated roughly in the safe third countries through which they have entered, and have therefore lost faith in that third safe country, as for them it is not safe. Hence, they try their luck to come to Britain. Greece for example is known for its refoulment, that is returning those who enter its territory back to their country with little or no enquiry as to why they arrived in Greece in the first place. For the Greeks they should simply not be there. Greece is supposed to be a third safe country. Britain is a country not renowned for its “soft touch “, as some cynics may say, but for its fair system of justice, democracy and security, in other words for being a caring society. This does not mean that it is a soft touch. However, see last paragraph of this article.
Neither is it true that those who come to the UK will definitely be given permission to stay, because Britain it is a soft touch! There is a system they have to go through, and this involves registration of those who claim, and the reason they want to stay here, an interview process as to why they are afraid of returning to their country, culminating in a result. If the result is positive they will be given leave to remain for five years as refugees or on humanitarian protection grounds, otherwise their claim will be refused and it will be subject to a right of appeal. Once they exhaust all rights of appeal unsuccessfully, they should then be returned to their country of nationality or residence.
Better control of our borders is required however
To have better control of who comes to our shores, and reduce criminals and other undesirables entering this country, there should be better corporation between Britain and France not only to prevent such persons entering, but also to prevent those hazardous crossings, as tragedy is awaiting to take strike soon or later, and I am in fact very surprised that no one has yet been killed in the recent channel crossings in the weeks leading up to and after Christmas 2018.
The Home Secretary has declared the current channel situation a “major incident”, but I hope he will take measures with his French counterpart to dissuade and if possible prevent these hazardous crossings. The root cause is no doubt the smugglers or agents, but it is difficult to find and detained them. Funds should be spent in this area with the corporation of the French border authorities. Unless the smugglers are brought to justice, I can only see an escalation of the current problem with dire consequences.
I note that the Home Secretary is recalling two cutters, (border control ships, at present deployed overseas elsewhere), to the channel area, which may be the start of heading off those who attempt to make these perilous journeys, but more needs to be done between France and Britain to prevent individuals crossing the channel in flimsy containers liable to collapse at any time.
The French government should also consider whether migrants who arrive in France are in fact treated fairly and humanely so that they would want to stay there rather than try to come to Britain. After all France is a third safe country, and if potential asylum seekers arriving in Europe, such as France (in the scenario of the boat crisis), were happy with their treatment, it is reasonable to conclude that they would be happy to remain there and claim asylum, rather than attempt to come to the Britain, and if they manage to do so, then claim asylum only to risk being returned to France to process their claim, subject to France accepting them, under the Dublin Convention.
France and other European countries where potential asylum seekers go to are hardly blameless for the attitude that they have created. If people are left to fend for themselves in a camp known as the “jungle”, near Calais, without any help, and bullied and told to move on, instead of given assistance, which many tell us is what has happened to them abroad before they arrived in Britain.
Distinction between refugees and economic migrants
Of course, there is a distinction between potential asylum seekers and those who simply want a better lifestyle and come to Europe under the guise of seeking asylum, and wasting public funds here in the process. The European Union’s free movement policy and the removal of national borders and the grant of Schengen visas has not helped the situation as it has enabled everyone whatever their motives, and also criminal gangs to find their way into Europe, including Britain. This is one of the reasons why Britain voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016, so that it can take back control of its borders and to have controlled managed migration.
Not immoral for Britain to uphold its integrity
It is not immoral for any nation to uphold its own integrity or decide who has the right to live in its territory, since that is the essence of democracy and being a sovereign state. Whilst Britain does not owe the rest of the world a living so to speak, it does have an obligation to treat fairly those who are in need of protection under the Geneva Convention and who arrive here, to provide them with dignity and safety whilst their claims are processed, and if unsuccessful to remove them swiftly. By not removing those who have no further claims to remain in Britain having exhausted all possible avenues, and having become appeal rights exhausted, the government is only helping to create more illegal migration and work in the black economy by those who should not be here. It is important for this government to invest money in removing those who have had a fair crack of the whip and exhausted all their avenues of stay here. Its failure to do so is a weakness on its part, and perhaps if there is any accusation of Britain being a soft touch, it is in this area of failing to remove swiftly when the individual has had the benefit of all the processes which have been negative in his/ her claim to remain in the UK.
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Dr Bernard Andonian – the Co-Founder of Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, is an experienced Immigration Solicitor, former Judge, and recipient of a PhD in Law from the University of West London. He has over four decades of experience practising UK Immigration, Human Rights and Civil Litigation Law. He has served on the Law Society Immigration Law Panel, achieved numerous groundbreaking decisions in higher courts and is featured in the Legal 500’s Hall of Fame.