Written evidence submitted by Quakers in Britain, the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN), and the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) (CHA0010)
- This is a joint response from Quakers in Britain, the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN), and the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA).
- Quakers in Britain is a national church supporting thousands of Quakers (also known as Friends) across England, Scotland and Wales. It is also a charity, working for positive change in areas such as climate justice, peace and disarmament, and migration. Quakers in Britain supports a network of over a hundred Quaker meetings that have made a commitment to become ‘sanctuary meetings’. They are engaged in practical work to build a culture of welcome towards newcomers to Britain, challenge racism in all its forms, and campaign to change the laws on destitution, detention and deportation.
- Quakers set up QARN in 2006 so that they could work together on advocacy for radical change to the asylum system. QARN is now a national network of Quakers supporting and amplifying the voices of people seeking asylum, refugees and others in need of international protection.
- QCEA has been engaging with European governments on issues of peace, justice and equality since the 1970s. Most of its work is with policymakers at international institutions (EU, NATO, Council of Europe), but it also has some direct contact with people seeking sanctuary in Europe.
- We are responding to this inquiry because our faith leads us to care deeply about the people who make these journeys. Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone, and are led to uphold the inherent value and agency of every human being. We are committed to building a world without violence, including in relation to migration and people seeking sanctuary.
- Between our three organisations we have significant knowledge, experience and understanding of Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU. In this submission, we set out: the reasons why we believe there has been an increase in Channel crossings; the legal position of these people; and why, in our experience, a more effective approach would be to put in place other legal routes for people seeking sanctuary to reach the UK.
Reasons behind the increase in Channel crossings
The hostile environment
- We believe that the hostile environment towards people seeking sanctuary in the UK and many other European countries dehumanises and discriminates against people on the basis of where they come from and centuries-old racial hierarchies that still divide us locally and globally. This hostile environment also encourages people to make life-threatening decisions because they do not have other viable options. We believe that Channel crossings are one consequence of failing to provide legal routes for people seeking sanctuary to gain an equal footing in society. We say more about this later in our submission.
- Anti-migrant rhetoric is both a cause and consequence of the hostile environment. In its 2018 report on this issue, QCEA found that anti-migrant hate speech impedes integration and inclusion of migrants in our society, and creates an environment that is conducive to violence. We call on the Committee and the Government to ensure that they do not contribute to anti-migrant narratives as they try to address the issue of Channel crossings.
Police violence in France and Belgium
- Policing methods in France and Belgium feature in a complex set of issues that affect people’s decisions about whether try to settle in France or Belgium or to attempt a further journey to the UK.
- Quakers engaged in supporting people seeking sanctuary have heard accounts of police conduct that is criminal (including theft and violence) and contravenes commitments that France and Belgium have made under the torture article (Article 3) of the European Convention on Human Rights (inhuman and degrading treatment). Examples include ‘M’ who lost his parents in the Darfur genocide and was a victim of forced labour and torture in Libya. He explained to QCEA staff how he was taken from the street by police in Antwerp after being racially profiled, told to remove all of his clothes, and held naked for a long period, during which he was told to do star jumps.
- QCEA has heard of many more accounts of young people sleeping rough in France and Belgium, whose treatment included: being woken up by a kick in the ribs; hosed with water whilst sleeping outside in winter weather; and regularly ‘stop checked’ with phones smashed and sometimes money stolen.
- This issue is not new to the House of Commons. The Co-Chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking and Modern Slavery published a report in July 2017 that found: “the actions of the French authorities to create a hostile ‘no tolerance’ policy towards migrants in Calais and surrounding areas has created such a toxic environment that children are routinely subject to police violence, sprayed with tear gas, pepper spray and hit with batons.” The report includes testimony from children who claimed to have been beaten on the legs with batons as a punishment for sleeping rough in the woods near Calais.
- In 2018 the humanitarian organisation Médecins du Monde produced an in-depth report documenting the experience of people in and around the Brussels-North (Brussel-Noord/Bruxelles-Nord) railway station. 25 percent of the 440 asylum seekers Medecins du Monde interviewed alleged mistreatment by the police – including unjustified or disproportionate use of force. The findings were reported to the Standing Policing Monitoring Committee (SPMC) of Belgium’s Federal Parliament. It is at the same location in June 2020 that black German MEP Dr Herzberger-Fofana explains that she was assaulted by police while using her mobile phone to film the harassment of two young homeless black people by nine white police officers.
- Asylum seekers who are given leave to remain in France and Belgium will likely have to deal with continued racial profiling by the police, alongside citizens of Black or Arab descent. Academic research shows higher levels of racism in policing in France and Belgium than neighbouring democracies, including the UK. Data on race and policing in France and Belgium is not generally collected due to the different approach they take to acknowledging racial identity compared to the UK. In a European Social Survey in the last decade, respondents in 26 countries were asked whether victims of all races were treated equally. Belgium was ranked 21st (40.9% answering yes) and France was ranked 24th (31.6% answering yes). Another survey in France asked residents if they had seen a police officer or a gendarme treat someone disrespectfully. The survey found that 8% of practising Christians and 10% of people with no religion said they had, compared to 33% of practising Muslims. (See: Policing in France, de Maillard and Skogan, 2020).
Attempts to tackle Channel crossings
- Linked to the issue of policing is the UK and French governments’ attempts to try and “stop the traffic”, referred to in the call for evidence for this inquiry. There is some evidence that efforts to stop Channel crossings are actually causing them. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee warned in 2019 that “a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.”
- QARN member David Forbes has extensive experience and expertise in providing legal advice and support to people going through the asylum and immigration system. In his recent letter to the Chair of the Committee, Yvette Cooper, he wrote:
“The Independent already reported a year ago that draconian evictions from Calais were fuelling desperation attempts at boat crossings. Fast forward to July this year and we find that, following emergency talks by Priti Patel, the water supply is turned off at the Calais settlement and, lo and behold, there is immediately a great leap in the numbers of dangerous boat crossings. Arresting, trying and sentencing numbers of people smugglers does not appear to have done anything to turn the tide.”
- The impact of the authorities’ actions in France have been particularly relevant during coronavirus. In March, The Guardian reported that many people seeking safety were being spurred to attempt a Channel crossing because the French authorities were threatening to disperse them to accommodation centres to address the risk of infection. The pandemic also disrupted both legal routes such as resettlement and alternative irregular routes, making people more likely to attempt crossings in small boats.
- According to the UN, conflict and violence are on the rise. The UK has contributed to many of the armed conflicts that have resulted in people seeking sanctuary here. In 2018, hundreds of people from the Yemen sought asylum in the UK, while the UK continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen. According to recent data from the UNHCR, Iraq is one of the top five countries of nationality for UK asylum applications. This demonstrates the ongoing impact of the UK government’s decisions to enable and perpetrate violence around the world.
- As members of Rethinking Security, Quakers in Britain call for the UK government to recognise that the wellbeing and security of UK citizens is inherently linked to wellbeing and security of all other human beings and the planet.
- Quakers believe that migration is a fundamental part of human behaviour, and we do not wish to suggest that the UK government should aim to prevent migration by doing more to tackle conflict and the climate crisis. But its failure to sufficiently recognise these underlying causes of migration is counterproductive to the UK government’s own aims, as well as the people those aims are directed at. In 2019 the Foreign Affairs Committee recommended:
“It is an error to focus 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. The UK’s interests around irregular migration are broader than this, and include peace, stability and human rights in source and transit countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as the impact on our neighbours in Europe. The FCO should ensure that the UK’s broader strategic interests are fully taken into account in the formulation of migration policy—not just the domestic imperative to limit migration.”
British colonial history
- There is a growing awareness of how Britain’s colonial history has contributed to its role as a destination for people seeking sanctuary. A young person spoke to a Quaker involved in asylum support about this:
“There are no possibilities here. I put my hand [fingerprints taken when first stated intention to claim asylum in Europe] in Switzerland three years ago, I learned German and had work, but my asylum has now been rejected. It is not safe for me to go back to Sudan, what choice [do] I have? There is no life here living on the street with no papers.
“Why can I not ask if the UK want me? Many people in my village have the names of the British who were there to take the land before, your grandfathers, James, William. Many have these names.
“Across the water was very bad, but not like before, not like coming Libya - Italy. Now we are here. We wait to know our future. Many people they say we will be taken back to France, but what we can do. We just wait in the room.”
Legal position of migrants and legal routes for migration
- Quakers in Britain recently signed a letter to Priti Patel from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). It highlighted the legal right of migrants to seek asylum in the UK and the need for more legal routes:
“Ministers, officials and the Prime Minister have repeatedly referred to the crossings as illegal. As you know, it is legal for a refugee to enter the UK without documents in order to seek sanctuary. As the UK does not provide a visa route that allows entry in order to make a claim for protection, and does not provide adequate resettlement or refugee family reunion, the only way to make a claim is to do so on British soil… This leaves people with legitimate legal cause to come to the UK and seek humanitarian protection with no legal means of doing so…”
- We are concerned that the Home Affairs Committee, like the government, consistently refers to ‘illegal’ immigration without clarifying that the individuals concerned have a legal right to seek sanctuary in the UK.
- The UK government has a moral and legal duty to provide legal routes for those seeking sanctuary so that they do not feel forced to attempt these crossings. This removes the need for people smugglers and traffickers, thereby undermining their business model. The UK also has a legal duty to protect the safety of lives at sea. The New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants (unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly at a summit in September 2016) states:
“10. We are determined to save lives. Our challenge is above all moral and humanitarian. Equally, we are determined to find long-term and sustainable solutions. We will combat with all the means at our disposal the abuses and exploitation suffered by countless refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations.”
- There is substantial evidence that providing legal routes is a key sustainable solution. The Foreign Affairs Committee’s 2019 report concluded:
“In the absence of robust and accessible legal routes for seeking asylum in the UK, those with a claim are left with little choice but to make dangerous journeys by land and sea… We recommend that the Government expands the legal pathways to apply for asylum from outside Europe and works with EU partners to encourage them to do the same.”
- Similarly, the EU Commission’s ‘Action plan against migrant smuggling 2015-2020’ emphasised:
“Smuggling networks can be weakened if fewer people seek their services. Therefore, it is important to open more safe, legal ways into the EU.”
- Quakers in Britain therefore support JCWI’s requests for more legal routes:
“We call on the government to introduce safe and legal routes of entry to the UK, including by introducing Humanitarian Visas, expanding the Family Reunification Rules, and properly funding and extending the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. We would also like to see the government renew its commitment to the Dubs scheme and work closely with the French government to take shared responsibility for those seeking asylum in the UK, and immediately guarantee an adequate route for all those who are currently eligible to enter the UK under the family reunification provisions of the Dublin regulations who stand to lose that right on 31 December 2020.”
- Several of these points are echoed in the House of Lords European Union Committee’s 2019 report. The Committee found that the government was ill-prepared for the implications of Brexit for the immigration and asylum system. Regarding family reunion, the report concluded:
“We support the Families Together coalition’s campaign to expand UK refugee family reunion rules. These demands reflect the conclusions of our 2016 report on unaccompanied migrant children in the UK, which found no evidence to support the Government’s belief that allowing children to sponsor their parents would encourage families to send children to Europe alone in order to act as an ‘anchor’ for other family members.”
- Quakers believe Channel crossings are a symptom of a wider system of violence against individuals in their home countries, as they make their journeys across Europe, and as they seek sanctuary in the UK.
- The UK government can help address this by promoting peace abroad, providing safe and legal routes for people seeking sanctuary, and treating all of God’s children with dignity and respect. Quakers offer their help to the UK authorities and people seeking sanctuary in their attempts to find peace, equality and justice.