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Human cost of irregular migration makes international partnership essential, say MPs

4 November 2019

The tragic deaths of 39 people in a lorry container in Essex should be a wake-up call to Government to reassess its approach to irregular migration, says the Foreign Affairs Committee in its report on Responding to irregular migration: A diplomatic route.

Responding to irregular migration: a diplomatic route, the Committee also expresses concerns about deals to limit migration with countries such as Libya, Niger and Sudan. These deals risk fuelling human rights abuses and can be used as leverage by partner governments, as shown by Turkish President Erdogan's recent threat to "reopen the gates".

A policy focussed exclusively on closing borders serves to drive migrants to take more dangerous routes and pushes them into the hands of criminal groups, says the Report.

Although the Home Office might lead on the UK response to irregular migration, the Committee believes this can lead to the error of focussing on preventing migration to the exclusion of other goals such as preventing conflict and promoting stability and respect for fundamental human rights in source and transit regions.

Among the recommendations, the Committee is calling for:

  • An increased effort to negotiate future close cooperation on migration policy with the EU, including an immediate return of UK officials to EU-level meetings where irregular migration is discussed.
  • An expansion of legal pathways to apply for asylum outside Europe and work with EU partners to encourage them to do the same.
  • Robust monitoring and safeguards to ensure that UK funding to migration programmes in Libya is not contributing to human rights abuses.

Chair's comments

Chair of Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, commented:

"The case of 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex shocked us all. The full story won't be clear for some time but this tragedy is not alone. Today, hundreds of families across the world are losing loved ones who felt driven to take the fatal gamble to entrust their lives to smugglers.

This case should serve as a wake-up call to the Foreign Office and to Government. The UK has been relatively isolated from the different migrant crises in recent years – but it's wrong to assume that we are protected from their impact. Right now, the US withdrawal from Syria and the Turkish military operation in to territory formerly held by Kurdish fighters could see an increase in migration flows.

As the Foreign Affairs Committee has said repeatedly, the UK is leaving the EU, not leaving Europe. The UK has a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution and cooperating with others to protect human rights. We should lead by example. It's crucial that we plan our response to irregular migration together. This means that until we leave the EU, we should return to the meetings where migration is discussed and develop ways to keep channels open with the EU and others.

The uncertain nature of parliamentary business cut this inquiry short but the Committee hopes to return to the issues in greater detail in future."

Further information

Image: apasciuto via flickr (Creative Commons)