Chapter 6 Updates - September 2021

Crossing the Border

The effects of Brexit on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are now being seen. See the updates for Chapters 1 and 2 for more detail on this.

Secure external borders seem destined to remain a key feature of modern immigration policy. The media storm this summer over small boats crossing the Channel highlighted both public and government concern about this issue and led to an announcement from the Home Office that there would a further tightening of security on the French coast, including the use of ‘cutting edge surveillance technology.’ As Yeo perceptively notes, these measures now make it almost impossible to reach the UK lawfully to claim asylum. This is relevant in the light of proposed measures in the new Borders and Immigration Bill (see Chapter 11 updates).

Policies aimed at the interception of asylum seekers at sea are fairly common. Intercepting refugees at sea and transporting them to a genuinely safe third country does not breach the non-refoulement obligation imposed by Article 33 of the Refugee Convention because it does not force the refugees back into the arms of their persecutors. However, you do need the co-operation of a third party and there are indications that France is not willing to accept returns. A letter from the French Home Secretary which has been published in the UK press states:

… the French position on intervention at sea remains unchanged. Safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy, out of strict respect for the international maritime law governing search and rescue at sea… The use of maritime refoulments to French territorial waters would risk having a negative impact on our cooperation.

 In the light of this position, it seems unlikely that UK ‘turnaround’ policies could be implemented successfully. Safe and legal routes to claim asylum are important and should be encouraged but it may be unrealistic to imagine they would significantly reduce demand to reach the UK by other means.

Further, sending asylum seekers to have their claims processed “offshore” as a deterrent to boat arrivals doesn’t work, according to Australian experts examining their own country’s experience. A policy briefing by the Kaldor Centre at the University of New South Wales warns other countries of the “failure of offshore processing to achieve its border protection, humanitarian and foreign policy aims”.