Migrant crossings: What happens to migrants who reach the UK?
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The government is pressing ahead with controversial plans to change the UK’s asylum system.
People it says have arrived without authorisation or illegally – such as in dinghies on the English Channel – would have fewer entitlements if their asylum claim was successful.
If migrants are found in UK national waters, it is likely they will be brought to a British port.
If they are in international waters, the UK will work with French authorities to decide where to take them. Each country has search-and-rescue zones.
Given the short distance between Dover and Calais, there are no international waters where many migrants cross.
Once migrants are in the UK, they are usually taken to short-term holding centres.
The numbers change with the seasons – but in July 2021, there was a record 430 arrivals in a day.
As of mid-summer, 8,000 arrivals had crossed the Channel – but it’s important to consider that figure as part of a bigger picture.
In 2019, some 45,000 people sought asylum in the UK. So, the dinghies are only part of the total.
The UK receives about a third of the asylum applications of France and 1% of all the 4,000,000 refugees in Turkey.
At current rates, cross-Channel arrivals will remain nowhere near the numbers seen elsewhere in Europe.
They are also below the record 100,000 applicants seen during Tony Blair’s government.
Under international law, people have the right to seek asylum in any country they arrive in. There’s nothing to say they must seek asylum in the first safe country reached.
An EU law called Dublin III allows asylum seekers to be transferred back to the first member state they were proven to have entered.
However, the UK is no longer part of this arrangement as it has now left the European Union.
The UK has not agreed a scheme to replace Dublin III, meaning transferring migrants who make the channel crossing would be difficult.
Between 1 January 2019 and 1 October 2020, 231 migrants who crossed the English Channel were returned to mainland Europe using Dublin III.
Many of the migrants crossing the English Channel claim asylum once they arrive in the UK. Asylum seekers hope to receive refugee status, meaning they can stay.
They must prove they cannot return to their home country because they fear persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
They can include their partner and any children under 18 in the application if they are also in the UK.
Decisions are made by a caseworker. They look at things such as the country of origin of the asylum seeker, or evidence of discrimination.
This is supposed to be done within six months, although most wait longer.
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If someone gets refugee status, they and their dependants can remain in the country for five years. After five years, they can apply to settle in the UK.
Alternatively, they may get permission to stay for other humanitarian reasons. This means they do not qualify for refugee status but are nevertheless at risk of serious harm on return to the country they came from. This could arise from:
Family members not already in the UK can apply to join those with refugee status, or humanitarian protection.
They may also be given permission to stay for other reasons – for example, if they are an unaccompanied minor, or a victim of trafficking. How long they can stay will depend on their situation.
In 2020, more than 36,000 people, including dependents, applied for asylum in the UK.
About 10,000 were offered refugee status or other protections.
Both of these figures were down on the previous year, likely due to the impact of coronavirus.
Under the government proposals, those who arrive in the UK in ways the government consider illegal would find it far more difficult to receive permanent residency, even if their asylum claims are successful.
The new system would not give them the same settlement entitlements and those who arrived “illegally” would constantly have their status evaluated.
The current system would stay in place for those who arrive through the government’s preferred means, such as the resettlement scheme currently in place for Syrian refugees.
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This scheme takes refugees directly from camps near the Syrian border.
The government argues this helps tackle people smugglers and deters people from making dangerous trips to the UK.
However, the Red Cross has called it “inhumane”, saying it creates a “two-tiered system”, whereby someone’s case and the support they receive is judged on how they entered the country and not on their need for protection.
Once an asylum application is under way, help with housing and money to live on is provided while the claim is processed.
Most asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work.
Asylum seekers get no choice in where they live. Most are initially placed in hostel-type accommodation before longer-term housing is arranged.
Much of this accommodation has previously been criticised by the immigration watchdog.
Asylum seekers can get a cash allowance of £37.75 per week for each household member, with extra support available for vulnerable groups such as children or pregnant women.
Asylum seekers with an active application are entitled to free healthcare and children must attend school.
If asylum is not offered and no other reason to stay in the UK is accepted, the person will be asked to leave the UK, either voluntarily or by force.
They can appeal against the decision, with just over a third of these 5,000 appeals accepted. This is an indicator these individuals are genuine refugees.
Migrants can receive legal aid for these appeals, which can sometimes take years, as well as continued financial and housing support.