The only way to stop Channel crossings is to fix our broken asylum system

Bella Wallersteiner

November 25, 2021

Yesterday, twenty-seven people heading for the UK drowned near Calais after their boat sank in the worst recorded tragedy involving small boats in the Channel. The local Calais prosecutor has reported that seven women and three children perished while only two people were rescued from the cold sea.

At this stage very little is known of the identities of those who died and we can only speculate about their nationalities and the awful predicament they faced when their boat starting sinking.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed “to do everything possible to stop the gangs responsible.”

Only last week, the Home Secretary Priti Patel and her French counterpart issued a statement committing to work together to “prevent 100 per cent” of illegal Channel crossings. Clearly whatever has been done in the interim was not enough to stop yesterday’s tragic accident.

The number of migrant crossings, now three times as many as last year, shows that our strategy of giving taxpayers’ money to the French is not working: we have been appalled by images of by-stander French police watching as migrants prepare to board their leaky and unseaworthy vessels. The inclement November weather is not deterring migrants as there were further attempts at making the crossing today.

The British Government is living in cloud-cuckoo land if it really thinks the French government is going to stop migrants crossing the Channel. The French clearly have little interest in preventing boats from leaving their shores.

The only way to stop the dangerous Channel crossings in small boats is to fix our broken asylum system and offer asylum to more refugees before they attempt the crossing. More empty promises and platitudes won’t do.

I come from a family of immigrants. My German Jewish grandfather fled to this country after Kristallnacht to seek refuge from the Nazis. My mother came to this country from Canada 30-years ago and has diligently contributed to society ever since.

Immigrants have always been welcome in this country. They have made this country what it is today. Many of those seeking sanctuary in Britain have endured awful persecution in their homelands. Most are fleeing countries in turmoil due to war, genocide, or political, religious and social persecution. They hope that when they arrive on our shores they will be treated with kindness and compassion. Those of us who are already here have the advantage over the dispossessed and homeless in that we arrived in the U.K. at a time when more people understood the intrinsic benefits of controlled migration.

Migrants making these dangerous crossings have travelled for months from lawless countries and failed states to get to the English Channel. This is the last hurdle and, after what they have been through, this narrow stretch of water is not going to stop them. We should be sending a boat every day to the French coast to bring these migrants to the UK safely so that we have accurate records of who is coming. They could be vetted properly before being relocated into our communities.

A far better guard against illegal Channel crossings would be to open up more safe, viable routes for genuine asylum seekers and speed up the process for asylum application, with speedier deportations for those who do not meet the criteria.

The people smugglers would see their business model destroyed as immigrants realise there is nothing to be gained in attempting the perilous crossing. It would also be beneficial to the French authorities who are currently having to deal with thousands of desperate immigrants assembled in the Calais area. This concentration of people living in improvised settlements has blighted the region for more than twenty years and needs to be dealt with as an humanitarian emergency by French and British governments working together.

There are legitimate concerns about what happens when asylum seekers get here and the knock-on effects on population growth, public services and community cohesion. However, the economic case for immigration is clear: it is good for Britain.

Consider the enormous cost of looking after illegal immigrants in temporary accommodation, investigating the legitimacy of their claims and patrolling the Channel. Last year only five migrants were sent back to their country of origin. If migrant claims were quickly processed they could begin contributing to society sooner – perhaps even training to become HGV drivers.

Immigration generally has a positive fiscal impact in many countries, including the UK. Without them, we would have to make more cuts to public services or pay higher taxes (or both). It is worth looking at how successfully 1m asylum seekers welcomed to Germany by Angela Merkel were integrated into society as economically productive citizens.

Many worried about mass unemployment in the wake of the pandemic. Instead, we now have the opposite problem: a labour shortage. Preventing businesses from accessing cheap foreign labour via tighter immigration will not turn the UK into a global powerhouse.

The lack of lorry drivers has led to petrol shortages and supply problems in retail. Hospitality businesses are struggling to re-open as they cannot find enough staff. The Prime Minister has lauded the benefits of moving towards a high-wage, high-skilled, high-productivity and low-tax economy. Honourable ambitions, but the country still needs people to drive trucks and sweep the roads.

The UK’s post-pandemic shortages present an opportunity to overhaul the system when it comes to processing the claims of asylum seekers to settle in the U.K.

We need to make the process of dealing with asylum seekers more efficient. By the end of June there were nearly 60,000 outstanding asylum applications, this number has trebled in the past three years. These individuals are a drain on the taxpayer and unable to work while languishing in reception centres. A huge waste of potential labour at a time when their contribution to the economy is desperately needed.

We should be proud of our record helping the oppressed and persecuted. Britain will always be a destination migrants want to come to. Subject to rigorous vetting and the necessary security checks, I would like to see us accept many more refugees bringing a plethora of different skill sets.

Unless we introduce radical reforms to the system and do something to alleviate the suffering of thousands of hapless people who only want what we already have, sooner or later there will be another terrible and avoidable tragedy.


Written by Bella Wallersteiner

Bella Wallersteiner works in political due diligence.

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