Though counterintuitive, leaving the EU could result in more asylum seekers being welcomed onto UK shores, says Olivia Bridge from the Immigration Advice Service.

Assuming the UK still leaves the EU as planned – deal or no deal – the Home Office face rewriting some of the 12,000 estimated EU regulations into UK understanding. While the majority of these laws are relatively straightforward to transfer, the common asylum agreement the UK shares with the EU is not so easy to write up.

The Dublin Regulation is an EU law that allows any of the member states to return asylum seekers to their first European country that they passed through. However, after Brexit, the Dublin Regulation that the UK Government claims to take “full advantage” of will cease to exist in UK legislature. Legally, this means that immigration control will have little choice but to welcome each would-be refugee into the UK’s administrative asylum process.

The debate over this regulation resurfaced after a couple hundred of migrants made their way to the UK via dinghy over the Christmas period. Throughout 2018, 539 migrants travelled across the Channel and into the UK using this method which the police have described as like “trying to cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot.”

Yet a key concern for the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has been over whether those who took the voyage were even “genuine” since “France itself is a safe country”. Speaking on a port in Dover, Javid said: if asylum seekers “somehow make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure that [they] are often not successful because we need to break that link”. In a follow-up statement to Parliament on the 7th January, Javid went on to claim that “the widely accepted international principle is that those seeking asylum should claim it in the first safe country that they reach”.

However, claiming asylum is a protected right that is enshrined by international law, allowing individuals who face torture or violence in their home country or who are being persecuted due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, sexual orientation or gender identity to seek humanitarian protection anywhere in the world. Rejecting asylum claimants in a bid to deter others – as Javid suggested – is illegal. And, further still, while the law allows the UK to return asylum seekers, migrants are under no legal obligation to claim asylum as soon as they touch down in Europe nor should it be used against them as grounds to be disqualified in the UK. Besides, making a claim elsewhere or not bears no relevance to the fact that these migrants still face persecution in their home country.

According to immigration lawyer and asylum barrister, Colin Yeo, the asylum statistics for September 2018 show the majority of those claiming asylum in the UK were actually genuine. Iran has been the most common nationality of claims filed in the UK over the past two years. This is because, as the Iranian Association on the Refugee Council found, great economic hardship has gripped Iran and plunged the country into an oppressive regime. Growing numbers of Iranians are reporting that violence is increasing for those voicing liberal views, practising Christianity or for expressing their sexual orientation. As a result, near three-quarters of Iranian asylum seekers successfully sought protection in the UK last year. Although there is little data to suggest why the remainder were refused asylum, individuals are frequently rejected for lacking evidence of their persecution at home while others are at the mercy of inadequate translators. Errors are common in the asylum process which is perhaps why the success rate of appeals in the Iranian cases was so high: of the 2,192 claims that were initially rejected, 46% were later overturned.

However, why they don’t claim asylum in France (or elsewhere in Europe) is an entirely different matter. Many speak a degree of English or have family members in the UK while others are just seeking escape from the horrific and squalid conditions existing in refugee camps. Aggravating a pull factor to the UK, Calais refugee camps are rife with violence – including police brutality. French authorities have used teargas and batons in a bid to taunt and discourage asylum seekers from staying. Vulnerable women and children are often coerced into what’s known as ‘survival sex’ with smugglers just to seek some level of protection in these camps across Europe. Diseases, theft, hypothermia, death, suicide and physical and sexual violence are only serving to fan the flames of hostility and causing many to be tempted to make the perilous journey across the Channel and into the UK.

While in the UK, the Government provides asylum seekers with £37.75 a week with an additional 47p a day per every pregnant woman and/or child. In accordance with the law, migrants in this position are prohibited from taking up a job. This move that has been highly criticised for leaving the British economy not only short of workers, but of their contribution which is estimated at £42 million. Only those waiting 12 months or more are allowed to take up a job on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List which advertises highly specialised vocations that the UK has failed to fill with local talent. Roles on this list include medical radiographers, aerothermal engineers, cybersecurity specialists, neurophysiology healthcare scientists and even ballet dancers. If an asylum seeker takes up a job that isn’t on the list, they jeopardise their pending immigration status and could even endanger applications they make in the future such as being able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after five years of living in the UK. The alternative to host migrants in detention centres is equally as expensive: the average cost of holding just one asylum seeker in detention was estimated at £86 a day in 2017.

Although Migration Watch found the UK only returned 1,186 asylum seekers between 2015-17, with a climate catastrophe just beyond the horizon, opting out of the Dublin Regulation could short-sighted to the bigger picture. By 2100, it is expected the first million of ‘climate refugees’ will have already hit European shores.

To overcome this glaring oversight, the UK could either re-write the Dublin Regulation again, strike a reciprocal agreement with each of the member states or sign up to the agreement in a similar way to Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. However, considering Brexit has soured the UK’s relations with the EU, it would seem unlikely that the EU would allow the UK to continue returning asylum seekers to their borders. Besides, Germany, Italy, France and Greece process significantly higher numbers of asylum seekers and refugees than the UK does. The European Asylum Support Office found that, while the UK received only 33,780 asylum claims in 2017, Greece received 56,650, France as many as 99,330 and Italy received 128,850 claims. Germany had an even higher and staggering amount of 222,560 asylum applications being filed in the same year.

For these reasons, it is expected that the EU will consider the UK leaving the Dublin Regulation as a minor relief. With little choice but to process asylum claims rather than ‘shipping them back to France’, a deeply ironic consequence of Brexit for British voters is that there will be more asylum seekers making their way to Dover and Kent – and successfully gaining a right to stay.

As the UK prepares to close its doors to so-called “lower skilled” working Europeans, in an unforeseen twist of events, it will be opening the gates wider for asylum seekers who are prohibited from working at all. 

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