Between 1 January 2019 and 1 October 2020, 237 migrants who crossed the English Channel were returned to mainland Europe.
This is just over 2% of of just under 10,000 or so people who have been reported illegally crossing the Channel since the start of 2019 (see our Tracker) – only one in every 42 arrivals.
This news comes following a scathing report by the National Audit Office which detailed the clear drop in the number of removals of illegal migrants to countries of origin over the past few years (see graph below).
Figure 1: Enforced and voluntary returns of individuals with no leave to remain and foreign national offenders from the UK since 2015 (National Audit Office report, June 2020, see figure 11, p.36).
And startling figures revealed by a separate Freedom of Information release show that during 2019 only 21 people were removed to France under the Dublin Convention – see report.
Home Office figures confirm that 81% of illegal Channel migrants whose asylum claim has been considered since the start of the year do not have a credible asylum claim in the UK (see this piece).
It is also very worrying that the number of removals of failed asylum claimants to their countries of origin has dropped like a stone (see below).
The EU Dublin Regulation makes it possible to remove some irregular migrants to the place they first entered the EU (see briefing papers here and here).
However, in recent years, these EU rules have meant more asylum seekers being transferred to the UK from other parts of Europen than have been removed from our country (because provisions helping relatives join each other take precedence over those requiring removal to first state of entry).
In fact, the UK has taken in three times as many asylum seekers from other EU states as it has sent back under the rules (receiving 2,390 people and removing only 786 between 2017 and 2019) – Home Office, Dublin statistics.
More evidence of the lack of effectiveness of these rules has been brought to light by the illegal Channel crisis.
The Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 revoke the EU’s Dublin Regulation from the UK’s perspective, taking effect at the end of the current Brexit Transition Period (on 31 December 2020).
What will replace the Dublin Rules – if anything – is not clear yet but the UK is currently in discussion with France about how best to tackle illegal Channel crossings and other unauthorised entries from the Continent.
What do returns of illegal Channel migrants look like since 2019?
Dublin return flights were suspended during the worst of the Covid pandemic but resumed in mid-August:
- Around 155 of those who illegally entered via this route were returned to EU states between January 2019 and May 2020 (Parliamentary Answer, June 2020).
- Returns to EU states were suspended during the worst of the pandemic crisis between March and the Summer 2020 (see parliamentary answer). However, in mid-August it was reported that Dublin returns had restarted.
- The Home Office said it removed a total of 27 migrants who reached the UK by small boat in August (see media report). On one flight, on 12 August, more than 80 taxpayer-funded guards accompanied just 14 illegal immigrants on a deportation flight from Stansted to Germany and France, according to a report. An inspection into the removal flight – in which passengers were dropped off at airports in Frankfurt and Toulouse on August 12 this year – found 86 escorts were used, over six times the amount of detainees.
- 11 people were removed to Spain on 3 September (evidence to Parliamentary Committee).
- 14 people were returned to EU states in mid-September (see report).
- 6 migrants who reached the UK by boat were removed to Germany on 22 September 2020 (see media report).
- The Home Office said on 1 October 2020 that it had removed one Sudanese national to France. However, the return of 29 others was postponed ‘due to a high volume of legal claims.’ (see report).
- Four people were returned on 13 October to EU countries where they had previously sought asylum (see report).
- 13 others were returned at other dates (media report).
- It was reported on 11 November 2020 that 6 migrants had been returned under the Dublin Rules – three to France and three to Belgium. ‘Others who were due to be returned lodged legal claims’, said the media.
- This would put the total returned since January 2019 at 237.
The Home Secretary, told MPs in July that 166 people were ready to be returned and officials had asked Europe to receive almost 600 more. Requests have been made for a total of 577 who have arrived this year to be returned to Europe after fingerprinting found they had either claimed asylum or come into contact with the state (see media report).
The Government has estimated that it will spend £200 million on deportation tickets and charter flights between 2017 and 2024.
However, too often planned flights are cancelled due to late legal challenges aimed at frustrating enforcement, including spurious claims by left-wing activist lawyers.
A Home Office flight bound for Spain carrying 23 illegal entrants was abandoned on 26 August due to last minute legal challenges. The Home Office said returns were ‘too often frustrated by last minute challenges submitted hours before a scheduled flight. These claims are very often baseless and entirely without merit, but are given full legal consideration, leading to removal being rescheduled. This can effectively result in the timing out of a return due to stringent Dublin Regulations” (see media report).
In mid-September, it was reported that a flight chartered by the Home Office to take asylum seekers to Madrid tomorrow would not proceed after a High Court judge agreed with lawyers for three men scheduled to be on it that the state of Spanish immigration facilities should be investigated first. The Syrian and two Yemenis arrived on small boats in the summer but had first set foot on the European mainland in Spain.
In early October, plans to return 10 migrants who had reached the UK by boat to Italy were abandoned following several legal claims. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: “Once again, our efforts to facilitate entirely legitimate and legal returns were frustrated by legal claims” (see report).
The government said: “As it currently stands, the system is inflexible and rigid, and is open to abuse by both migrants and activist lawyers to frustrate the returns of those who have no right to be here.”
It added that ‘new legislative measures are being developed that will tackle the endless legal obstacles that cost UK taxpayers millions on an annual basis’.
It continued: “There is considerable policy work underway to address where the UK’s immigration and asylum system is being exploited and abused” (see media report).
Removals of people whose asylum claim has failed
The lack of removals is paralleled by an abysmal record in removing failed asylum claimants who have no right to be here.
Returns of failed asylum seekers fell from around 15,000 in 2004 to just 4,000 in 2018. The 2019 figure is unclear because the government have made it much more difficult to verify the data on this, although overall enforced returns (including non-asylum related immigration offenders) last year were at their lowest level since records began (see Home Office figures).
The Home Office is facing a growing asylum backlog after the number of cases jumped three-fold in less than a decade to nearly 110,000. The number of failed asylum seekers in the UK who are subject to removal has nearly doubled, from 24,000 in 2011 to more than 40,000 in the most recent years (see Home Office release).
One reason for the failure to remove more people is the legal context. The Home Office was reported as saying that there can be “significant obstacles to removing individuals, including difficulties in obtaining documents from national governments, complex cases and dealing with last-minute legal challenges”.
However, there is also less appetite and political will to enforce immigration law in recent years on the part of the government. The Conservative Government’s record on this has been much worse than Labour’s, in part due to austerity that has meant falling budgets and overstretched staff numbers with plummeting productivity and morale.
The government also seems more scared than ever of offending the powerful and well-funded lobby of open borders activists and their allies in the media, legal and corporate worlds and the civil service.