February 8, 2023
By Patrick Higgins
Since 2019, a plethora of conflicts around the world have forced a record number of people to flee their homes (ELNOR Education n.d.). Worryingly, an increasing number of migrants are dangerously attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats from Calais. UK Home Office figures show that 33,029 small boats holding refugees attempted to cross the English Channel between January and September of 2022 (see Figure 1). This is almost double the number of small boats detected during the same nine months in 2021 (Home Office 2022 a.). This has led to numerous tragedies, the most recent of which occurred on December 14th, when an inflatable boat with 39 refugees on board capsized, killing 4 (InfoMigrants, 2022; Geyer & Jones 2023). Similar deaths occurred in 2021 and 2022 (Geyer & Jones 2023).
Figure 1: Line Graph: Detected small boat arrivals in the UK, January 2018 to September 2022 (Home Office, 2022)
This increase has been referred to as “an invasion on our Southern coast” (Ahmed 2022) by the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and the ensuing backlog in application processing has been used as justification for planned legislation criminalising arrival in the UK without legal permission. The UK plans to deport all asylum seekers arriving ‘illegally’ to safe third countries or their country of origin (Dathan 2023). These measures have been roundly criticised by migrant rights activists for flying in the face of UK responsibilities to respect everyone’s right to claim asylum and not discriminate based on method of travel, as decided in the 1951 Refugee Convention (McDonnell 2023). Referring to increased small boat arrivals as an ‘invasion’ has also been critiqued as a “gross mischaracterisation” (Ahmed 2022). When put in a global or even European context, the number of asylum seekers being processed in the UK is comparatively small.
This article will show how the current backlog in asylum processing was preventable, and put the number of refugees claiming asylum in the UK in a Global and European context. It will then examine the labelling of asylum seekers as ‘illegal’, in light of international obligations to respect an individual’s right to claim asylum. Finally, this article demonstrates the risks of outsourcing asylum processing for vulnerable refugees and details the public outcry against UK proposals to outsource asylum claims to Rwanda.
ELNOR is an English-language education nonprofit organisation providing online classes, alongside professional assistance, to refugee adults in the US and Europe. With many other NGOs, ELNOR stands against increasingly detention-based methods of refugee reception. Through research like this article and beneficiary- and data-based projects on the ground, ELNOR seeks to advocate for the human rights of our students and many others seeking asylum. A past research visit to Calais and Dunkirk, France, found that our program was unviable in such an environment for sheer lack of stability across daily life, with beneficiaries facing police violence among other threats throughout the day. Despite this, and with many partners still on the ground there and students in the UK, ELNOR seeks to contribute to the breadth of literature outlining and demanding how policy decisions affect refugees in the UK, France, and elsewhere.
On ‘Invasion’ Language and Deflection of Responsibility
Although there has been an increase in small boat arrivals in recent years, referring to this as “an invasion on [the UK] Southern coast” — as done by the current Home Secretary Suella Braverman — is an extreme exaggeration (Ahmed 2022). In the year ending March 2022, the UK ranked 18th among European states in applications processed per capita, and far lower in total applications when compared to France, Germany, and Spain (see Figure 2) (Home Office, 2022 b.). Furthermore, the number of refugees attempting to reach the UK is also relatively small when put in context of the 33.4 million new global internal displacements in 2019, of which 8.5 million were the result of conflict and violence (ELNOR Education). The housing of these refugees globally is not evenly distributed. In 2022, most refugees (69%) resided in a country neighbouring where they had fled (UNHCR 2022). This is a point of contention with the African Union, an organisation of 55 African Member states, who feel the responsibility for housing refugees is being unfairly distributed globally and condemn recent attempts to outsource asylum processing to African countries (see section 2 for more detail) (African Union 2021). In light of this globally unequal burden sharing, the efforts of European countries and the United States to strengthen border controls, while also emphasising their “readiness to provide refuge to those in need of protection”, seem highly disingenuous (Home Office, 2022 c.; McDonnell, 2023).
Figure 2: Number of Asylum Applications; March 2018 – March 2022 (Home Office, 2022 b.)
This is not to deny that there is an incredible backlog in UK asylum processing that is harming migrants. The number of refugees forced to wait more than six months for an asylum decision in the UK has tripled since 2019 (Ahmed 2022). This has caused severe overcrowding in Manston, one of the UK’s two main refugee intake centres for those entering the country without legal permission. Manston was designed to hold 1,600 people maximum, for an initial short screening period before they could be moved on to more long-term accommodation or removal centres. As of October 2022, more than 4,000 people were held there (Ahmed 2022; BBC 2022 a.).
Overcrowding at the facility has been detrimental to the quality of life of refugees housed there. Following a visit to the centre in late 2022, independent inspectors reported “families sleeping on floors in prison-like conditions” (Hui 2022). Such conditions have posed serious health and safety risks, including outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria alongside basic fire hazards, and caused the death of at least one migrant. As a result of these failures, Manston has been shut down and residents transferred to private rented accommodation (BBC 2022 a.).
The Home Office has blamed these failures on a “cycle of endless appeals and abuse of the asylum system” and has claimed that preventing arrivals by small boats from France would make the system “fair to those in genuine need” (Dathan 2023). This claim of concern for the ‘fair’ treatment of refugees has been called into question when considered alongside divisive rhetoric from prominent UK politicians referring to migrants as “members of criminal gangs” and a “swarm” (Ahmed 2022; PA Media 2023). The government has also willfully ignored Home Office forecasts of an increase in small boat arrivals in March 2022, as well as their advice to prepare alternative accommodation for those being housed at Manston (BBC a.). The number of people with pending asylum decisions has also been steadily rising since 2016, as a result of long-term neglect of asylum processing facilities (see Figure 3). In light of persistently ignored warnings and systemic failures, current difficulties look less like a crisis and more like a consequence of neglect (Solomon 2022).
Figure 3: Final outcome of asylum applications, by type of outcome, 2012-2021 (Home Office 2022, b.)
In spite of this neglect, the UK government has spent millions on agreements with France to enhance border security. The most recent agreement with France commits the UK to pay France up to €72.2 Million in 2022 and 2023 “to tackle all forms of illegal migration, including small boat crossings,” funding expanded French efforts to “deter migrants entering France via the Mediterranean migration route” (Home Office 2022 d.). These security efforts cause significant hardships for refugees. Since the 1990s, refugees in Northern France have set up informal communities in hopes of someday reaching the UK to seek asylum there, often to reunite with family. Previous ELNOR research has shown that rather than provide these refugees with support, the French government routinely tears down makeshift accommodation in the area, and local government policies have attempted to deter NGO operations to support the surrounding refugee populations (Geyer & Jones 2023). At the same time, no new agreements or changes have been offered that would speed up the differentiation of illegal versus ‘genuine’ refugees attempting to cross from Calais. Instead, the UK government has decided to label all these refugees as ‘illegal’, despite calls by over 100 NGOs to focus efforts on clearing the backlog and creating safe routes to asylum (Together with Refugees 2022).
The UK government’s claims that the cause of their troubles lies in ‘abuse’ of the asylum system appear to be a mere deflection. Agreements with France and failure to heed warnings of systemic failures show that funds and foresight are not in short supply, but that the government is too heavily focused on border security to meet its international obligations. Both Enver Solomon (Chief Executive of the Refugee Council) and Human Rights Watch have concluded that continued systemic failures within the asylum system demonstrate that the UK is attempting to renege on its international commitments to uphold the right to seek asylum and share the burden of housing asylum seekers (Ahmed 2022; Solomon 2022).
Small Boat Arrivals Are Unfairly Scapegoated
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised that a serious effort will be made to differentiate between “illegal migrants” and “genuine refugees” (Dearden and Woodcock 2022). However, according to Home Office figures, nearly half (49%) of asylum claims by refugees arriving to the UK by boat between 2018 and 2022 were granted asylum or another form of international protection (Home Office 2022 b.). That Home Office statistic supports claims by refugee rights campaigners like Enver Solomon, that “those who take such journeys have no safe route through which to make an asylum claim” (Dathan 2023). It should further be noted that, when pressed by their peers at a recent Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing, neither Suella Braverman nor the permanent secretary at the Home Office could provide an example of a safe and legal route to asylum (Peat J. , 2022).
Attempts such as that of the UK government to scapegoat refugees arriving by small boat as ‘illegal’ are tragically commonplace. In the Summer of 2021 for example, far from extending the same protections to Ukrainian refugees that were conferred by a temporary protection directive in March 2022, the EU vowed to, “prevent illegal migration from the region” in response to the flight of a large number of Afghans following the Taliban takeover in Kabul (Coi, et al. 2022). This double-standard has been roundly criticised as ‘racist’ elsewhere (Reidy 2022), and betrays the inability of the EU to agree on a workable common framework for asylum processing in the bloc (Coi, et. al. 2022).
Referring to asylum seekers as ‘illegal’ because of their use of smugglers or lack of legal visas demonstrates a stunning denial of the realities refugees face. Intractable conditions that cause people to seek asylum in Western countries — such as political repression and escalating conflict — frequently close off the possibility of legal travel to a safe country in which to apply for asylum (Refugee Council). In the case of Afghanistan, Iran has for years made it illegal for Afghan citizens to travel within their country. Yet in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power, an estimated 2 million Afghans have been forced to flee and live undocumented in Iran (EUAA 2023). This leaves these refugees at the mercy of border authorities, resulting in unsafe environments for families, individuals, and children. Amnesty International reports Afghan migrants suffer arbitrary detention as well as being fired upon with live ammunition by Turkish and Iranian border guards (Amnesty International 2022). This is why many refugees are forced to engage the services of smugglers and other ‘illegal’ means of travel to safe countries, even if they would prefer not to. This is a point emphasised by Care4Calais and other NGOs opposed to the UK-Rwanda scheme discussed below (Care4Calais; Refugee Council).
As noted above, a significant number of asylum claims made by so-called ‘illegal’ migrants are accepted as genuine by the UK upon full review (Home Office 2022 b.). The top five nationalities to reach the UK by small boat between 2018 and September 2022 — Iran, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria — have significant overlap with the top five nationalities granted asylum in the UK in 2022 — Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, and Sudan (see figures 4 and 5) (see footnote). These figures indicate that had people from these nationalities had the means to apply for asylum before reaching UK shores, or the means to travel to the UK via safer means, then they would have likely had their asylum claim accepted. This confirms the critique that, although small boat arrivals are labelled as ‘illegal,’ many are in fact genuine asylum seekers left with no safe or legal options to enter the UK (Together with Refugees 2023).
Figure 4: Top ten nationalities claiming asylum in the UK; September 2020 – September 2022 (Home Office, 2022a)
Figure 5: Small boat arrivals in the UK by nationality, March 2018 – September 2022 (own analysis) (Home Office, 2022 a.)
Even if it were not the case that a large portion of asylum seekers who engage with people smugglers are in fact genuine asylum seekers without the means to travel, the idea that strengthening border controls will “break the business model of smugglers” flies in the face of available evidence. Figure 1 demonstrates that small boat arrivals have not been stalled, despite the poor conditions in UK facilities, the new legislation for prosecuting smugglers and those trafficked, and the abhorrent conditions in Calais. That lack of change is also in spite of the highly illegal policy of ‘pushbacks’, whereby migrants at sea are forcibly returned to their point of origin regardless of whether they are in distress (McDonnell 2023). Good policy generally follows measured results, not mere gut feeling. Yet, these measures at strengthening border controls to prevent smuggling are being implemented in other refugee situations, such as the US expelling and pushing back refugees from its Mexico border (McDonnell, 2023.).
Without tackling the root causes that force refugees to migrate, the government leaves refugees with few options other than to engage smuggling services. As well as being ineffective, these policies are thus also counterproductive, as “increased border and immigration controls together with the closure of legal migration routes fuels the need for smugglers” (Crawley et. al. 2018). These measures are often justified on grounds of ‘law and order’. However, the idea that there is a “nexus between organised crime and irregular migration” (Home Office 2022 c.), though popular, is disputed by Crawley et. al. (2018), who found that smugglers often had either family or social connections with refugee communities. This research also found that almost half (43%) of their respondents used smugglers to flee danger or persecution and thus had little choice in their means of travel. Criminalising asylum seekers who arrive by small boat or engage the services of smugglers is an inhumane and counter-productive response that increases the suffering of refugees genuinely in need of protection.
Outsourcing Processing: Risking Real Harm to Refugees
Recognising the difficulties refugees face in accessing safe and legal routes to asylum, an important principle enshrined in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention is that asylum seekers should not be discriminated against or penalised for their means of seeking asylum (UNHCR, 2010). As such, it is asserted by refugee rights organisations and the European Commission that “there is no such thing as an ‘illegal’ or ‘bogus’ asylum seeker,” since anyone has the right to claim asylum and remain in the country where they claim asylum until their claim has been properly assessed (Refugee Council; G. Coi, 2022).
This principle is seemingly directly challenged by the UK government’s plans to remove all asylum seekers who arrive by small boat to safe third countries or their country of origin. As noted above, the only plan so far offered by the government to outsource asylum processing to safe third countries is the UK-Rwanda deal. On the 13th of April 2022, a memorandum of understanding was signed by then UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Vincent Biruta (UK Home Office, 2022 d.). The memorandum commits Rwanda to take charge of processing the asylum application claims of all asylum seekers who have entered the UK ‘illegally’. Critics have pointed out flaws in the policy proposal, in its heavy estimated price tag, and in that it would effectively involve deporting virtually all asylum seekers, given the apparent lack of available legal routes to entry into the UK (see above discussion) (Peat, 2022).
While it is legal to return asylum seekers to safe third countries, outsourced asylum processing has rarely led to conditions that could be described as ‘safe’ by any definition. Australia, for example, passed a law in 2013 which would give refugees arriving ‘illegally’ — in their case by small boats from Indonesia — a choice: Return to the country being fled or agree to be processed in refugee processing facilities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) or the island of Nauru (BBC 2022 c.). The $300 million deal with PNG was touted as a success in preventing small boat arrivals by the Australian government, and suggested as a ‘cure’ for the 2015 refugee crisis in the Mediterranean by then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. However, transfer to Papua New Guinea did not lead to the freedom refugees were promised, and there were reports of major human rights violations including illegal detention, hunger strikes, riots, and suicides. A 2015 undercover BBC investigation reported that conditions were extremely restrictive, with refugees forced to live in quarters as small as 2 metres squared with as many as 3 others and stick to a strict 6pm–6am curfew (Donnison 2015). As a result of legal challenges, the “Guantanamo of the Pacific” (Ibid.) was deemed illegal and shut down in 2021.
The British Conservative Party MP Daniel Kawczynski has bemoaned criticism of Rwanda’s ability to protect refugees’ human rights and fairly process their asylum claims as “very, very racist” (Hickey 2022). However, there are valid concerns about the rule of law in Rwanda and there is a real danger that refugees will encounter the same, if not worse, hardships in the ‘Guantanamo of the Pacific’ in Rwanda (Fleming 2022). The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) has pointed to widespread “mock execution, asphyxiation, and electric shocks” as evidence that Rwanda is far from a safe third country (Ali 2022). Potentially with these concerns in mind, in 2021 UK Foreign Office officials warned Dominic Raab, then UK Home Secretary, that should Rwanda be selected for the policy “we would need to… constrain UK positions on Rwanda’s human rights record” and, in another memo, explicitly advised against engaging with several countries, including Rwanda (Syal and Taylor 2022). The idea that the Rwanda deal and others like it will promote a ‘fair and humane asylum system’ is contrary to the government’s own internal reports/advice, and seems to be an attempt to shift responsibilities to a lower-income country, akin to criminal detention privatisation (McDonnell 2023).
Alongside threats to the rights of asylum seekers who are housed in Rwanda, there are also significant threats of refoulement. This is expressly prohibited in the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees which states that “…no one shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom” (UNHCR 2010). Since signing a 2019 memorandum of understanding with the UN, Rwanda has received those qualifying for refugee status from Libya on a voluntary basis. However, the UNHCR has testified to the UK High Court that, following investigation, it found an almost 100% refusal rate for Afghan, Syrian, and Yemeni asylum cases in Rwandan courts. The UNHCR also provided evidence that applications by members of the LGBTQ+ community were systematically discriminated against (Taylor 2022).
The UK Home Office does not record numbers of refugees from the LGBTQ+ community arriving by small boats. However, the nationality of small boat arrivals is recorded. Afghan, Syrian, and Yemeni claims make up approximately 20% of arrivals by small boat in the UK (12,730) between 2018 and September 2022. Syrian and Afghan asylum applications are almost always granted in the UK (see Figure 4) (Home Office 2022 a.). Furthermore, although there is no official count of LGBTQ+ small boat arrivals, 64% of asylum applications on LGBTQ+ grounds were granted in 2021, indicating that the UK is more receptive to LGBTQ+ claims than Rwanda (Home Office, 2022 b.). This suggests that not only would processing in Rwanda be harmful to refugees’ human rights, but also that processing in Rwanda increases the chance that they will be returned to countries the UK considers unsafe and would constitute refoulement (Taylor 2022).
As has been discussed above, small boat arrivals have not fallen as a result of the Rwanda scheme being announced. However, there is evidence that the deal is already having a detrimental effect on the mental health of asylum seekers in the UK, as many are being kept in detention with the direct threat of being sent to Rwanda or some other country hanging over their cases (Taylor 2022 b.). Medical Justice interviewed 17 people targeted for removal to Rwanda in May 2022 and found that 11 had suicidal thoughts while in detention (Medical Justice 2022). The UK does have procedures to remove vulnerable refugees in need of medical attention or mental health services from detention, known as Rule 35. Despite some people claiming asylum seekers are abusing this process, the UK Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has asserted that there is no evidence for this, and that bias among case workers and the looming threat of charter flights to Rwanda are impeding the functioning of the process (Neal 2023). It seems clear that the proposed Rwanda scheme does immense psychological harm to already vulnerable refugees within a struggling system.
The increased stress on refugees of the deteriorating environment in the UK is simply an add-on to “endemic healthcare failures” of detention (Medical Justice 2022). As noted above, Medical Justice clinicians found that at least 13 people who did not qualify for removal from detention as a result of being put on the list for initial flights to Rwanda were suffering from significant psychological trauma, exacerbated by this detention. This is not uncommon, as previous studies in Australia have shown that prolonged detention may lead to suicidal behaviours and worsen already present psychological trauma in asylum seekers who may have experienced significant pre-migration trauma such as persecution and/or torture (Kavalidou & Albanese 2020). This is aside from the fact that asylum seeking populations also disproportionately suffer from physical harms of food deprivation and substandard accommodation. These harms are the direct result of putting security above humanitarian goals. These issues are not just being ignored by the UK — a recent meeting of EU interior ministers focused exclusively on border security without one mention of improving facilities for safe and legal migration routes to diminish demand for people smugglers (Home Office 2922 c.).
Outsourcing Processing: Legal Challenges and Public Outcry
The proposed UK-Rwanda deal has been met with successive waves of protests across the UK in June, July, and September of 2022, as well as legal challenges in the UK High Court and the European Court of Human Rights by the #StopRwanda campaign. This campaign is led by the NGOs Stand Up To Racism and Care4Calais, and supported by Trades Union Congress, as well as 14 other trade unions and organisations such as the UK Refugee Council and Amnesty International (Stand Up To Racism 2022). Legal appeals to the high court by organisations from the #StopRwanda campaign have not succeeded in having the agreement completely thrown out, however, they have significantly slowed progress of the deal. The British High Court ruled on 19 December, 2022, that the policy is lawful but that the Home Office must properly investigate all asylum seekers’ claims to “decide if there is anything about each person’s particular circumstances which means that [their] asylum claim should be determined in the United Kingdom or… should not be relocated to Rwanda” (Syal & Taylor 2022 b). The policy remains inactive, as the court found that refugees previously scheduled for deportation to Rwanda did not have their asylum claims properly investigated by the Home Office.
There are also other legal obstacles to the deal. With authority in British law through the Human Rights Act passed in the UK parliament in 1998, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) previously halted a proposed flight in June 2022 on the basis that asylum seekers cannot legally be sent to Rwanda until at least three weeks after their case has been decided by a UK court, in order to give time to appeal to a higher court or the ECHR (Davies 2022). This has reopened Conservative debates about whether the UK should leave the ECHR, having left the EU in 2020. This would leave the UK without any legal mechanism to protect the human rights that were enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. It is proposed that the 1998 bill could, however, be replaced with a bill of human rights written into law by UK legislators (Grogan 2022). Worryingly, the current proposed legislation has been criticised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a cross-party committee made up of both peers and MPs, as completely unworkable since rather than protect human rights, the bill would “tip the balance” in favour of the state at the expense of human rights (Grunewald 2023).
Combined with the High Court decision, it seems likely that the UK-Rwanda deal will be mired in future legal challenges. Currently, legal appeals have been lodged in the UK Court of Appeals on behalf of 11 asylum seekers who were previously scheduled for deportation to determine if assurances from Rwanda amount to a guarantee of safe and fair treatment in their country (Casciani 2023). For this reason, Graeme McGregor of the NGO Detention Action — a supporter of the #StopRwanda campaign — has said that “it is crucial that those individually affected by this policy receive legal assistance, as well as emotional support” (Courtois 2022). There has also been speculation that the Home Office is having difficulty in finding private airlines willing to be associated with the deal after Privilege Style airline officially ruled out sending flights to Rwanda in October as a result of public opposition to the deal (BBC 2022 e.) While the stance of the current UK government seems firm, refugee human rights in this instance appear somewhat resilient due to pre-existing UK legal structures and the efforts of NGO workers and advocates in the human rights field.
It would seem that the work of these NGOs in supporting refugee stories is in line with UK public opinion. The government has suggested that the UK Rwanda deal is something “the overwhelming majority of the British people want to see happen” (Syal & Taylor 2022 b.). However, 2020 polling suggests that the salience of migration as a concerning issue in the mind of the British public has dropped to its lowest level this century (British Future 2022). A 2022 YouGov poll even found 63% of respondents were in favour of allowing more or the same number of people currently looking to enter the UK to flee persecution or conflict (YouGov 2022). In light of the public outcry over the UK-Rwanda deal this suggests that the government has a great deal of latitude to expand safe and legal routes to asylum in the UK and improve public confidence in the UK asylum, whilst also living up to its international obligations.
Finding a Better Way
Emilie McDonnell with Human Rights Watch has raised the alarm that third-country deportation schemes are a rising global trend and that the UK-Rwanda plan could have a “domino effect” around the world (McDonell, 2023; Courtois 2022). Denmark is currently attempting a similar agreement with Rwanda, and Austria has called for similar measures across the EU (InfoMigrants 2022 b). These agreements were again criticised by the UNHCR for jeopardising the rights of asylum seekers to have their human rights protected and their claims properly assessed (Ibid.). In response to the Danish government’s overtures to Rwanda, the African Union issued a statement condemning the plans as “xenophobic and completely unacceptable” and calling on parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention to “remain true and faithful to their obligations” as African countries already accommodate the vast majority of refugees (African Union 2021). This lends credence to the criticism that rather than providing for a more efficient asylum system, such measures are intended to shift responsibility for housing refugees to lower-income countries (Courtois 2022; McDonnell 2023).
Luckily, these are not the only ways to prevent loss of life through dangerous asylum routes and maintain an orderly asylum processing system. The Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project (RAMP), a group of cross-party UK politicians, has suggested that current resettlement and community sponsorship schemes could be expanded to benefit a greater number of asylum seekers (Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project, 2021). There are also examples in Italy of ‘humanitarian corridors’ that could be replicated between France and the UK. This process involved civil society organisations sponsoring the arrival of refugees from Lebanon by providing pre-departure support and travel visas, then being matched with host communities and provided with individually tailored supports upon arrival (Paravati & Ricci, 2020). In light of UK public opinion being largely on the side of refugees, the RAMP project has noted that now is an opportune time for the government to attempt a wider ranging refugee integration strategy like building humanitarian corridors (Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy Project, 2021).
The more than 30 million refugees in the world have an inalienable human right to have their applications for asylum processed in a country of their choice. This is necessary to prevent the terrible injustice of refoulement or deportation to a country where they experience the same persecution or violence they are fleeing. In order to take on this challenge, high-income countries like the UK need to start investing in safe and legal routes to asylum to give refugees the chance of a life free from persecution, violence, and trauma, and prevent the overloading of asylum processes in the future.
As is clear from Figures 4 and 5, Albanian asylum seekers make up a significant portion of small boat arrivals but have a much lower grant rate of asylum than the other top five nationalities granted asylum in the UK. An increase in the prominence of “criminal gangs” offering smuggling services in Northern France has been cited as a potential cause. However, it should also be noted that a large portion of Albanians (60% according to a 2018 Gallup Poll) have expressed a desire to leave but do not currently have the right to live and work in the EU or UK (BBC 2023 d.). While the EU and the UK consider Albania a “safe country”, it is a country with significant hardships, such as at least a third of its citizens living below the poverty line and a high incidence of organised crime (Wallis 2023).
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