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Sunak’s speech and tragedy in the Channel


© Bookerphotos

The morning after Rishi Sunak made his latest speech on migration, tragedy has once again struck in the Channel.

This is developing quickly, but as of Wednesday afternoon we know that four people have lost their lives while crossing from France to the UK. This follows one year after the tragedy in 2021. It’s hard to believe that we’re writing about another such incident.

Before we consider the wider context, it’s important that we take the time to mourn those we’ve lost. Each life belonged to a person with hopes and dreams like you and me and will leave behind grieving relatives and loved ones. They will be in our thoughts.

A number of voices, including RLS, have warned that UK government policy would result in just such a tragedy as people are driven into small boats by the lack of alternative routes. Significant change is needed to avoid future tragedies.

Sunak’s plan

Rishi Sunak pitched his speech as a solution to Channel crossings and a way to clear the backlog of asylum claims.

First of all, we agree that decision-making needs to be sped up, but not at the expense of justice and fairness. The Home Office doesn't even know how many outstanding refugee family reunion applications there are, and has no estimate as to how long it takes to decide applications.

Speeding up decision making needs to be a priority across the Home Office, not only for asylum claims. Our clients are forced to wait more than six months for family reunion applications and there seem to be effectively no decisions being taken on the Afghan schemes.

Sunak’s plan, however, is deeply flawed and often needlessly cruel. Below, we pick out four of the main issues.

1) It doesn’t address the lack of safe routes to the UK

This plan does nothing to address this central problem. Until it does, we are likely to see yet more people lose their lives.

People risk their lives by stepping into rickety boats because they have little choice. They know the dangers, particularly when the weather is as cold as it is now. For many, there are no safe or legal routes to the UK, as Suella Braverman was recently forced to admit to a parliamentary committee.

2) Sweeping changes to how decisions are made for large groups of people are cruel and arbitrary

Decisions should be made fairly. We need a properly functioning, sustainable system rather than lurching for shortcuts on the basis of political pressure.

Alongside this, the undermining of protections for survivors of modern slavery are a significant step backwards that will put lives at risk.

3) Tough talk on removals and recommitment to the Rwanda plan

As expected, Sunak’s tough talk extended to stepping up removals and a recommitment to the plan to remove people seeking asylum to Rwanda. This plan will treat people seeking safety as criminals and undermine their fundamental rights.

This is an unworkable plan and Sunak himself acknowledged the money that’s been wasted. It’s time to abandon it.

4) Warehousing people in remote areas

Through our work in Greece we see the impact that imprisonment in remote areas has on people’s lives. It leaves them stranded, unable to access vital support services and makes building a new life almost impossible.

The government should learn from its own experience with the disaster at Manston. People seeking safety should be part of a community, not kept in an open prison.


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