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Channel boat people are refugees, Home Office officials confirm


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Migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats are overwhelmingly genuine refugees, senior Home Office officials have confirmed. Evidence presented to the Home Affairs committee of MPs on 3 September makes clear that the majority of those making the perilous crossing are either being granted refugee status straight away or come from countries for which the success rate in asylum applications is extremely high.

Figures on small boat crossings are not routinely published, but the Home Office keeps tabs. Senior official Abi Tierney told the committee that 5,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year. Of those, 98% have claimed asylum. The Home Office has issued an initial decision on around half of those asylum claims so far.

The breakdown of those roughly 2,500 decisions is as follows: 

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.

Tierney’s colleague Tyson Hepple, head of Immigration Enforcement, later clarified that the 71% are not being refused in the sense that the Home Office thinks they are not genuine refugees. The department just believes that another European country has the legal responsibility for deciding whether they should be granted asylum or not:

The people Abi was referring to are those we are trying to transfer to another European state under the Dublin regulations, so they will not have their protection claim heard in the UK. We are seeking to transfer them to another European state in order to have their asylum claim heard there, because they claimed asylum in that country on their way to the UK.

Put them aside for a moment. What we can say about the roughly 750 people who have had a decision on their asylum claim here in the UK that two thirds have been accepted as refugees and one third rejected. That is before any appeal, which typically pushes up the “grant rate” by between 10 and 20 percentage points. In other words, 66% of this group of asylum seekers have been granted refugee status already, and we can expect that 76%-86% ultimately will be.

What about the 71% that the Home Office wants to send to mainland Europe under the Dublin transfer process? Hepple told MPs:

About 80% of the people in scope to be transferred come from countries including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Kuwait and Syria.

The chances of a successful asylum claim from someone with one of these citizenships ranges from quite likely to staggeringly likely. Last year, 85% of Syrians and 82% of Yemenis who claimed asylum in an EU country were granted it straight away. For Sudanese and Kuwaitis, the figure is 62%, and for Iraqis and Iranians around 40%. This is again before any appeal.

This exercise might seem rather bloodless. People are not statistics. The outcomes of individual cases will depend on the facts, and the asylum process is not the moral arbiter of who is worthy of help and sympathy. People refused asylum may have experienced profound suffering just the same. The point is that even operating within the strict terms of a hostile asylum process, most people crossing the Channel are clearly refugees. They just are.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.