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Europe-wide failure to anticipate and tackle "colossal" migration crisis

3 August 2016

After a year-long inquiry, the Home Affairs Committee says EU action to address a crisis it should have foreseen has been "too little, too late", with the EU-Turkey agreement a partial solution at best which raises serious humanitarian, human rights, logistical and legal concerns.

Humanitarian and security issues require immediate action and resources

Syrian refugees resettled by Local Authorities

The report publishes for the first time the number of Syrian refugees resettled in each local authority area. These figures show many Local Authorities (LAs) are not pulling their weight in resettling Syrian refugees, and there is scant evidence that the Government is on track to meet its commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrians by 2020. The Committee says Ministers should show leadership by encouraging their own constituency LAs to take refugees.

Unprecedented numbers arriving to Europe

The current numbers of people seeking to move into Europe are "unprecedented in modern times". The Archbishop of Canterbury has described the scale of the crisis as "colossal".

There were 1,255,640 first-time applications for asylum in EU member states in 2015, double the 562,680 in 2014, with over half of these from ongoing war-torn countries Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Contrary to popular perceptions, only 3.1% of these were in the UK, and in January 2016, 55% of the irregular migrants arriving in the EU were women and children.

Security issues

In the context of the current intense security threats to EU countries, it is clearly in the interest of all EU countries for there to be effective security checks at EU external borders. The UK's own measures since the Paris attacks are welcome, but no country can protect its borders alone. The UK and others need their European neighbours, and the countries on the EU external borders, to take equally rigorous steps.

Smaller ports are now being used by criminal gangs to move people between the Continent and the UK. UK Border Force has been given a key role in implementing strengthened coastal security measures but it is clearly under-resourced, with the number of Border Force vessels in operation worryingly low. Royal Navy vessels should be made available to Border Force to make up for shortfalls, where necessary.

Le Touquet agreement

The reported post-Brexit calls to end the Le Touquet agreement and effectively move the Calais Jungle to English shores are counterproductive and not in the interests of France or England: "those involved in terrorism and criminal gangs do not respect borders and both countries need to be vigilant in confronting these ever-present threats". Maintaining the Le Touquet agreement must be a priority for the UK Government.

Key findings

  • It is estimated that in the first six months of 2016 a staggering 227,316 migrants had entered Europe by sea, arriving in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Spain, with Libya as the main departure point, followed by Egypt. Nearly 3,000 of these are thought to have died in the attempt.
  • Members of the Schengen area's failure to agree on control of external borders is greatly exacerbating the crisis: some Member States have implemented their own passport controls within the Schengen area, in breach of the Schengen principles and no doubt due to a lack of faith in the integrity of the external Schengen border. It is not acceptable for EU Member States to leave these essential tasks to the countries most affected, including Italy, Greece and Turkey. All EU national governments should share the burden and contribute to disrupting the activities and destroying the boats and equipment of criminal elements who are the source of much of the migrant crisis, and who are the only party in this crisis to have gained from the suffering of vulnerable people.
  • The approach taken by the then Foreign Secretary in respect of Libya, where a reported 500,000 people are waiting to cross the Mediterranean illegally, is complacent. Given the UK's involvement in the Libyan civil war and in the rebuilding and reconciliation efforts which have followed, the EU should be able to offer Libya a deal, with substantial funding provided to tackle people smuggling at the points of departure, and access to Libyan territorial waters for European country vessels agreed in return.
  • Thousands of those in the Calais Jungle are Syrians, Eritreans, Sudanese, Iranians and Iraqis, including many children, many of whom have family members in the UK or other ties to this country. It is clear that many people in these camps are entitled to humanitarian protection or refugee status, and that their claims should be processed in the UK. Much more could and should be done through family reunion and accepting unaccompanied children, including increased use of safe and legal migration routes.
  • The Committee says it has yet to see any evidence of a strategy designed to deliver a long-term solution to the presence of the camps, where experts testify to appalling conditions leading to sickness and suffering: a further unacceptable lack of preparation and planning that must be addressed immediately by the French and UK governments together.
  • Allowing unaccompanied children to join family members already in the UK might result in more vulnerable young people making dangerous journeys to try to reach the UK, but the Committee agrees with the Bishop of Durham that the 157 unaccompanied children now in Calais who have family members in the UK "should already have arrived" in the UK. The Government should as a one-off accept all of these children into the UK now.
  • The Committee recently reported on the failure to tackle people-smuggling – the recorded number of 30,000 "clandestines" attempting to enter UK ports probably represents a smaller number who make desperate repeated attempts and are released back into the French countryside when apprehended by French authorities.

Chair's comments

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"Europe's efforts to address this 'colossal' refugee crisis has been lamentable. The atrocious conditions in migrant camps within and on the borders of the richest countries on earth is a source of shame. It is horrifying that large numbers of the 85,000 unaccompanied children already in the EU have gone missing shortly after arrival, facing abuse and exploitation. They have become the EUs "disappeared ones". It is unacceptable that the 157 unaccompanied children in Calais with family in the UK have still not arrived here.

Given this challenge, the abolition of the role of Minister for Syrian refugees is disappointing. Focus on this issue is vital if the target of 20,000 is ever to be met, which the current figures show to be unlikely. Cabinet Ministers should show leadership in encouraging their own local authorities to take their fair share of Syrian refugees. We need to avoid silently encouraging a two-tier system.

Naval deployments in the Mediterranean have saved lives, but they have failed in their twin tasks of deterring migrant flows and disrupting and destroying criminal smuggling networks. The EU's response in combating people traffickers who are exploiting, exacerbating and profiting from this crisis has been poor. These criminal gangs are the only winners. Libya is the main point of departure in the Mediterranean, with a reported half a million people waiting to cross, and the EU should focus on this in the same way as it has done with Turkey.

Criminal gangs continue to exploit weaknesses in security at small ports in Britain to illegally transport migrants from the continent. Despite maritime security being critical to an island nation, Border Force is operating worryingly low numbers of vessels to protect our borders. Royal Navy vessels must be used in our sea war against the traffickers.

The appalling attacks in Paris demonstrated that terrorists are exploiting this crisis by using this human tragedy as a cloak to re-enter Europe. The EU external border must improve security, including deploying specialist equipment to fingerprint and check everyone against security databases. This is not happening. Terrorists do not see borders as barriers to their barbarism."

Further information

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