The UK's boat people

In the last two months of 2018 over 200 migrants are known to have successfully made the journey by boat across the English Channel to the UK, some unaided, others, somewhat ironically, with the assistance of the UK Border Force.

In the last two months of 2018 over 200 migrants are known to have successfully made the journey by boat across the English Channel to the UK, some unaided, others, somewhat ironically, with the assistance of the UK Border Force. Despite the efforts that the UK and France have invested in recent years in preventing entry by stowaways on cross Channel lorries, these new trailblazers for a direct marine route threaten, if their journeys are perceived to be successful, to open the UK to a potentially unlimited wave of boat people.

Notwithstanding Jeremy Corbyn’s melodramatic plea to Britain's " duty to reach out the hand of humanity, support and friendship to people who are in danger and seeking a place of safety" the British public are unlikely to have their legitimate concerns so easily spun away. For several years now they have watched millions of mainly young men from Africa and the Middle East pouring into Europe across its undefended southern borders, changing the face of the continent forever. There is no evidence that many of these are fleeing persecution for their faith, culture or legitimate political activism. Rather it is the quest for personal fortune and a piece of the European good life that seems to drive this huge nomadic movement.

Most of Europe's illegal newcomers arrive from societies built upon the venerable Quranic values of sectarianism, misogyny, child sexualisation and violent intolerance. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that many journey not to escape those values but to transplant them to more successful societies - with more prosperous economies - based upon liberty, democracy and the rule of law. There is no doubt that they include in their number, defeated jihadis fleeing the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. Even those who may have set off with good intentions will likely only have reached the beaches of Kent by funding ruthless people-smuggling gangs as they went.

Under Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention the UK is committed not to punish a refugee for entering the country illegally if they were “coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened ” and where they have “good cause” for having done so. The House of Lords judgment in Adimi (2008) interpreted “directly” broadly to disregard “short term stopovers” in order to give meaning to the Convention's purpose. However, these words (originally, as it happens, insisted upon by France in the hope of stopping migration trails short of its borders) and the spirit of the Convention are to provide sanctuary for those fleeing danger: not to reward those who leave safety by sallying forth on perilous expeditions to improve their lot by illegal means.

Under the ‘Dublin Regulation' EU countries may transfer migrants back to their country of first EU entry. Hopefully, the UK will cease to be a party to this regime after April but in any event, returning illegal immigrants straight back to continental Europe is no answer, since this merely frees them to try their luck again. In or out of the EU, the UK must steel itself to adopt the Australian model of recognising undocumented arrivals for what they are: unknown, criminal and potentially dangerous trespassers. As such the rule of law dictates that they should be tried for illegally entering the country. Naturally, when they have served any sentence that may be imposed, such a person should be free to go – but freedom to go is not a right to stay, and it is perfectly sensible and just to then either return them to France to pass back to their EU country of entry, or detain them on grounds of public safety until such time as they can persuade a country to receive them.


Paul Ellis, Legal Spokesman 

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