Home Office official admits that 98% of the people who have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year have claimed asylum.


First published in September 2020.


Giving evidence before the House of Commons’ Home Affairs committee, a Home Office senior official, Abi Tierney, confirmed to MPs that English Channel-crossing boat people are refugees, and that of the 5,000 people who have crossed from France in small boats so far this year, 98% have claimed asylum.

She and Tyson Hepple, head of Immigration Enforcement, answered questions about asylum seekers crossing the Channel asked by the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, Stuart McDonald.

Here is part of their very interesting exchange that took place on 3 September:



(answering to Conservative MP Dehenna Davison)

Abi Tierney

Of those crossing this year, 98% claimed asylum, as Dan said. That was a very large majority. To date, 50% of those claims have been considered. Of those, 20% of those have been granted, 10% have been refused and a further 71% have been refused because we are not the responsible country, i.e., they have travelled through a safe country before they came here.

...


Stuart C. McDonald

The idea that asylum seekers are living it up in hotels is so far from reality that it is unbelievable. To bring a sense of perspective to this, Abi Tierney, am I right in saying that of the total number of people seeking asylum in Europe, we are talking about a tiny fraction who make it to the United Kingdom to claim asylum, and that an even tinier proportion of them do it by small boat crossings? Is that true?

Abi Tierney

Yes, that is absolutely correct. In terms of the numbers, France, Germany, Italy and Greece accept a much larger proportion of the asylum seekers, or they stay there, and a much smaller number come to us.

Stuart C. McDonald

Focusing on the very tiny number who embark on those small boat journeys, I think you said very helpfully that basically, where the United Kingdom accepts responsibility for assessing asylum claims, two thirds of them are accepted and recognised as refugees. Is that right?

Abi Tierney

For the small boat crossings, it is actually a lower amount.

Stuart C. McDonald

It was 20% that were granted refugee status, and 10% that were not.

Abi Tierney

Yes, that is correct.

Stuart C. McDonald

What I am getting at is that of those who were actually assessed in terms of the refugee convention, two thirds are recognised as refugees.

Abi Tierney

Yes, that is correct, although I was also referring to the 71% who are not admissible.

Stuart C. McDonald

Okay. Can I ask, when you talk about the 20% and the 10%, is that the refugee convention alone? You are not talking about humanitarian protection or other forms of protection that these people might also receive?

Abi Tierney

It is all granted, so it does include humanitarian protection.

Stuart C. McDonald

Okay. That is helpful. There is absolutely no reason why I should not extrapolate that, broadly speaking, of the 70% whom we try to send to all corners of Europe, two thirds — possibly even more — are refugees.

Abi Tierney

That is a fair extrapolation, based on the numbers we are seeing.

Stuart C. McDonald

And that is because the people in the small boats come from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Sudan. Home Office statistics show that the grant rates for these countries are, generally speaking, all above 50%. In the case of Syria, it is 96%. For Iran, it is 68%. They are all really high rates of grant.

Abi Tierney

That is absolutely correct.

Channel-crossing people are refugees, Abi Tierney – a Home Office senior official confirms whilst giving evidence before the House of Commons’ Home Affairs committee. / UK Parliament

Stuart C. McDonald

That is very helpful. Thank you. Tyson Hepple, can I come to you? Based on Laura Farris’s maths, which are definitely much faster and better than mine, we are talking about 3,500 people who are in the 71% for whom we don’t accept responsibility. Two thirds of them are probably refugees, but we are still going to spend money on removing them to Europe. Do you have an assessment of how much it costs? For example, I think you spoke about 11 people being removed to Spain, which already has about two or three times as many asylum applicants as we do. How much did it cost to remove those 11 people?

Tyson Hepple

I don’t have that figure, Mr McDonald. There may be some commercial sensitivities, because we charter with airlines. I will certainly write to you to let you know what the figures are.

Stuart C. McDonald

It would be helpful if we could just have a broad idea of how much removing 3,500 people, including 2,000-odd refugees, to other parts of Europe costs the taxpayer. Does the Home Office do any research on what actually happens to people who are removed to other European countries? Do we have any idea of how many remain within the systems there or how many end up back in Calais trying to make the same journey again?

Tyson Hepple

I could probably provide figures for those who return to the UK having been removed to another European country. I am not aware that we have done any research on what happens to that person once they have been accepted again into the French, German or Spanish asylum system. Again, I will ask my research colleagues whether any work has been done, but we will know whether people have returned to the UK, because we will re-establish their identity using the Eurodac fingerprint system.

Stuart C. McDonald

That is helpful. In terms of research, there are a lot of anecdotes traded, including today and yesterday, about why people make these dangerous crossings. Does the Home Office intend to do any proper, independent and thorough research on trying to understand why these decisions are made? I am last aware that it did a bit of research in July 2002 called “Understanding the decision-making of asylum seekers”. It was very thorough, and it showed all sorts of reasons why this happens. Does the Home Office intend to do anything scientific about trying to understand why this is happening?

Tyson Hepple

I think there are a few cases where we have done that. We have referred before to Operation Focal, which was some work that our strategic comms people did in the camps in Calais some years ago. That would have given us some data that I can let you know about. We are looking now at whether to do some more dissuasive comms, because we feel that those can be quite successful, and we debrief people when they arrive — for example, on the shores of Dover. I have a joint debriefing team who will debrief a large number of people to find out why they have come here and any other intelligence they can give us that will help us to try to identify their facilitators. There may well be some rich data there, which I am happy to write to you about. On top of the issues that have been discussed with the Committee already this morning, I think the English language can be a draw, particularly when you talk about the countries that you have just listed. These people are more likely to speak English than to speak German or Spanish, and I guess there are diaspora communities in the UK that might also act as a bit of a draw. I come back to your point about whether returning people to France or Germany is worth the effort, particularly the financial effort. The point there is about the deterrent. If it is a deterrent and it stops people making what is a perilous journey to the UK over the Channel, I think that is also an element of it. It is not just the integrity of the immigration system, which of course is important; it is also the fact that these journeys are dangerous, and we do not want people making them.

Stuart C. McDonald

Absolutely, and I am quite happy to have that debate, but you would need to convince me that it actually acts as an effective deterrent at all, and I am not convinced that it does. My solution, for what it is worth, would be — I spoke earlier about how you have this tiny fraction making their way through these dangerous routes to the United Kingdom, and it wouldn’t be a complete solution — the idea that the European Union proposed three, four, five years ago, which was that we all shared responsibility around the European Union and you would take into account exactly those factors that you have just outlined: language, communities, family. Then you would have far fewer having to make these dangerous journeys, and you would probably end up with a fairer share of responsibility around Europe, as opposed to what happens when it is all essentially dictated by geography; but that is a political debate, obviously.

Tyson Hepple

It is.



Watch the exchange in the committee:



People crossing the English Channel in boats are not statistics, numbers, or immigrants. They are refugees. And most of them have a genuine right to claim asylum in Britain.

Fact.🔷


PMP XTRA

Check their Voting Record:

🗳️ Stuart McDonald

🗳️ Dehenna Davison







[This piece was originally published in UK Parliament and re-published in PMP Magazine on 6 September 2020, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Shutterstock/Ververidis Vasilis.)

PMP Magazine articles are FREE. Please do share this article widely.

Members of PMP Magazine read this article ONE HOUR before its publication. We call this “THE TIMEWALL”. If you too would like to receive all our articles in your inbox before everyone else, BECOME A MEMBER NOW!