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Migration after BREXIT. How will the future British migration policy affect asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants?

The transition period for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, commonly known as BREXIT, will end on December 31st, 2020. The British Home Office has already published a new policy regarding migration to the UK as this topic was one of the most influential to the debate around leaving the EU. A new points-based program and the enforcement of UK external borders shall limit migration and especially stop the entry of refugees and asylum seekers over the English Channel. 

Britain leaving the EU has many aspects and one of them is the withdrawal from the Dublin Agreement, under which member states with first contact were responsible for refugees. Now, that Britain is no longer part of this system, the borders between member states and any other non-EU country. While the transition phase slowly ends, many refugees and asylum seekers continue to cross the English Channel between France and Britain in dinghies. As a commentary by the European Council on Foreign Affairs states, the British Home secretary Priti Patel is “furious” and has deployed the Navy to guard British borders after a 235 migrants crossed the channel on a single day, 6th of August, 2020. 

The narrative which is being formed by politicians as well as citizens demanding a stricter policy is that of a “invasion”.  The numbers since 2015 mentioned in the ECFR´s commentary speak a different language: in the year to September 2019, Britain received as much as 35,000 applications by asylum seekers, while the other member states registered 600,000 with France having three times as much applicants as Britain. The narrative of an invasion which must be countered by deployment of the British Navy seems out of proportion in this context. 

The British government is keen on keeping links to member states for strategic agreements on a variety of topics. Those bilateral agreements should provide for better deals than the ones negotiated by the EU with its member states. It is of little surprise, that the protection of the borders between France and Britain should also be part of a bilateral deal. As such, Chris Philp, Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, rushed to France to urge the French government to pressure for a new plan to shut down the “Channel migrant route”.  However, concrete plans were not mentioned. Nick Witney from ECFR mentions that France might not be highly motivated to deal with this “minor problem” as Britain has been picky when it comes to disburdening other member states in the past. Witney also mentions concrete plans in opposition to the British stance, closing borders and deploying the Navy: France and Britain should work together to bring smuggling gangs to justice who are responsible for leading many refugees and asylum seekers onto sea in hope for a better future. However, with Britain leaving the EU it also leaves EUROPOL and EUROJUST, which makes international policing and international justice far more difficult. 

It is unclear what the British government has in mind when it comes to the bilateral deals which shall provide for an improved migration system and the protection of borders. So far, the narrative being formed is hostile towards refugees and asylum seekers and neglects the circumstances under which some of the refugees and asylum seekers live. The pressure on certain member states that are the first point of entry is not comparable to the numbers which led to deployment of the British Navy. In conclusion, the British government should seek cooperation based on humanitarian ideals to not get estranged from member states with a common border, such as France and the English Channel. 

Christian Kutzscher