Tension from Calais to Dover: The Refugee Crisis Explained
“France will not be held hostage by British Politics” were the words used by French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin in 2021, amid the growing refugee crisis spanning across Europe.
Indeed, the exponential growth in the number of vulnerable individuals seeking asylum and largely fleeing violence, or persecution for reasons of race, religion, or nationality, combined with organised immigration criminals seeking to take advantage of the EU and British asylum system, presents one of the most profound moral challenges of the 21st century.
While the final figures for 2023 are not available, in the first nine months of 2022, the UK
received over 52,500 applications, the highest number for almost two decades. According to
official estimates compiled by the BBC, 45,756 migrants crossed the English Channel, from
Calais to Britain in 2022, the largest amount since the government began collecting these
numbers in 2018. In recent months, the number of refugees attempting to cross the English
Channel from France to Britain has skyrocketed. This has put immense pressure on both
countries to provide a coordinated response, but also exposed long-standing political
tensions between the two states.
French ministers have urged the UK government to remodel their asylum system to curb Channel tragedies. Deaths from migrant boat crossings through one of the world's busiest maritime corridors make poignant reading. The total number of deaths among individuals using improvised rafts or, in some cases, attempting to swim to the UK is unknown, a 2020 assessment revealed that around 300 people had died attempting to cross the Channel in the previous 20 years.
Undoubtedly, Britain’s exit from the European Union has caused a delay in a coordinated and sophisticated response from France and the UK. The Dublin Regulation, a policy designed to govern how EU states process asylum applications, is no longer applicable to Britain. However, the growing strained relationship between the EU and Britain reveals deeper-rooted issues within Westminster and British politics. While Conservative MPs have voiced measures to deal with shortages of accommodation, a congested asylum backlog and taxpayer concerns, patience is wearing thin as the list of Tory Home Sectaries to find appropriate solutions grows.
Priti Patel, the former home secretary of the United Kingdom, issued promises to make Channel migratory crossings an “infrequent phenomenon” by the following spring of 2019. After failing to reach this target, she promised to make the Channel crossing an "unviable" route by implementing a contentious proposal in which U.K. border officers would deliberately drive back small boats. She was eventually obliged to drop the concept due to safety concerns and stark criticism by the British public and fellow MP’s.
Much was heard about the £120 million pound deal between the UK and Rwanda sealed by Patel that would extradite asylum seekers to East Africa to help mitigate the growing number of asylum cases. 10 months later, a plane is still yet to take off with asylum seekers on board amid legal challenges aimed to prevent the deal.
The arrival of Rishi Sunak as the new Prime Minister has for some shed a new light hope that a deal can be reached with France. However, close followers of politics will notice his aide and front-bencher Suella Braverman taking a step back from the traditional role of leading immigration policy as home secretary. This follows a string of controversies regarding inhumane comments made about refugees, including likening channel crossings to an ‘invasion’ of British borders, and claiming it would be her ‘dream’ to see a plane take off to Rwanda. While a new mandate from Rishi Sunak symbolises change, there is little optimism among global leaders and the British public that the current government can deal with the crisis. Ipsos polling from 2022 indicates that the British public favour Labour on a range of border security issues, including whether they have the right immigration policies, the right policies toward asylum seekers, and how they handle the issue of migrants crossing the English Channel.