What happens to migrants crossing the channel? And is it illegal to come to the UK from France to claim asylum?

Experts fear the Nationality and Borders bill would create an unfair ‘two-tier system’ which could criminalise people fleeing persecution and conflict

What happens to migrants crossing the channel? And is it illegal to come to the UK from France to claim asylum? (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

There have been reports that a record number of people crossed the English channel on Monday (19 July).

The Home Office says that 430 migrants made the crossing, including women and children.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

While the number of small-boat crossings has risen in recent years, the overall number of asylum applications for people coming to the UK has dropped considerably to near record lows.

Daniel Sohenge, director of Stand for All said: “Asylum application numbers are currently at their lowest levels for years, far lower than France, Germany and others.

“What the government is trying to do is claim that other countries who already take more asylum seekers than the UK does take those who don't feel safe in those countries, just so the UK can take even fewer than it already does.”

According to Home Office data, the number of people claiming asylum in the UK in the year ending March 2021 was 27 per cent lower than the previous year.

Read More

Read More
Priti Patel immigration plan: what are the proposed changes to the asylum system...

Is it illegal to cross the channel to claim asylum?

It is not illegal to enter the UK in order to claim asylum and there is no obligation for those wishing to claim asylum to do so in the first ‘safe country’ they arrive in.

In order to claim asylum in a country you have to be in that country.

Because regulated routes to enter the UK in order to do this are so few, for many people who wish to claim asylum in the UK arriving via small boat crossing is the only viable option.

The government is proposing an overhaul of the immigration and asylum systems which would criminalise those who wish to claim asylum in the UK in this way.

What would the Nationality and Borders bill do?

The Nationality and Borders Bill has far-reaching implications, but one of the main aspects of the bill is that is would create a dual-track system which would give preference to those who claim asylum through resettlement schemes or family reunification.

Solenge says that the current system “ensures that asylum seekers aren’t penalised for their manner of entry” as long as they register their claim.

However, experts are concerned that the Nationality and Borders Bill will change that.

He said: “The new bill would automatically create a two tier system which penalises asylum seekers for their manner of entry. It's not shocking that we are seeing increased numbers of asylum seekers crossing the channel.

“With other routes closed to them they have little alternative.

This concern has been reiterated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in a report on the Nationality and Borders Bill.

It said: “At the heart of the Plan is a discriminatory two-tiered approach to asylum, differentiating between those who arrive through legal pathways, such as resettlement or family reunion visas, on the one hand, and those who arrive irregularly on the other hand.

“For the latter, access to asylum and protection in the UK would become infinitely more challenging.

“While UNHCR welcomes the UK’s continued commitment to legal pathways and better integration support offered to resettled and reunited refugee families, it remains clear that resettlement and other legal pathways cannot substitute for or absolve a State of its obligations towards persons seeking asylum at its borders, in its territory, or otherwise under its jurisdiction, including those who have arrived irregularly and spontaneously.

“This includes those arriving by boat. For the right to seek and enjoy asylum does not depend on the regularity of arrival of an asylum-seeker to a country. In reality, asylum-seekers are often forced to arrive at or enter a territory without prior authorisation

What happens to migrants who cross the channel?

While a handful of people who arrive in the UK by crossing the channel do not present themselves for an asylum claim, in some cases because they are brought in as victims of modern slavery, most are intercepted or picked up on arrival.

The vast majority of those who are picked up are taken to a unit where they can make a formal asylum claim.

Solenge explains: “After they have made an application they will be housed while it is being processed, this may mean being put in camps such as Napier or other forms of accommodation, such as hostels.

“They can't be turned back or returned to France, as some have suggested happening. In part this is because we don't have an agreement in place with France to do so, and partially because a state should still check claims to ensure they aren't placing someone at further risk.

“UK immigration law currently allows for the return of individuals to "safe countries", particularly if their applications fail, but they need the agreement of the country they are returning them to more often than not."