British home secretary Sajid Javid has questioned whether migrants using boats to cross the English Channel are genuine asylum seekers, as refugee charities urged him to use more compassionate language.
Mr Javid has already faced criticism for describing those making the perilous journey as illegal migrants. Speaking on a visit to Dover, he questioned why those making the journey had not sought asylum in the first safe country they entered.
"A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country that you arrived in?" he said. "Because France is not a country where anyone would argue it is not safe in anyway whatsoever, and if you are genuine then why not seek asylum in your first safe country?"
Mr Javid also appeared to suggest asylum seekers should be deterred from making the crossing by making it harder to gain asylum. “Also, if you do somehow make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure that you are often not successful because we need to break that link, and to break that link means we can save more lives,” he said.
In recent days, the home secretary has repeatedly referred to people making the Channel crossing as “illegal” migrants, though it is not against the law to seek asylum.
Earlier this week told Sky News: “Our job here is to make sure this doesn’t turn into a new route for ever-increased illegal migration, so I want to stop it now as much as I possibly can.” Asked about his use of the term “illegal migration”, Mr Javid skirted the question.
Paul Hook, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, said Mr Javid's words needed to be more compassionate.
“These are people first and foremost and they deserve a humanitarian response,” he said. “We need an approach built on compassion and we hope the home secretary will demonstrate that in his words and actions in the coming days and weeks.”
Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, also said there was a need for a more understanding approach. "People only attempt perilous journeys like crossing the Channel because they are desperate," he said.
On Wednesday Mr Javid said a total of 539 people had made the crossing in 2018, though 80 per cent had been in the last three months of the year. In “almost every case” they went on to seek asylum, he said.
Mr Javid said the government was doing everything it could to ensure boats found crossing the Channel were returned to France but acknowledged if Border Force vessels picked up people in UK waters, they would be taken to a port in the UK.
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Europe could not "close its borders" and said those coming to the UK by boat were fleeing war and hardship.
Mr Corbyn said it was “obviously necessary to work with other countries” but critics should bear in mind the “humanitarian aspect” of those people risking their lives.
“They are the product of wars, they are the product of human rights abuses, they are the product of environmental disasters. Europe cannot close its borders to them,” he said.The UK announced earlier this week it would deploy two extra Border Force ships to the Channel to try to disrupt the crossings in small and often unseaworthy boats across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
The numbers crossing the Channel are still small – about 100 have made the crossing since Christmas Day – though Mr Javid cut short a family holiday and designated the increase in crossings a “major incident”.
The home secretary said two Border Force cutters would be redeployed as part of wider efforts to ensure the route did not become more popular and said it was a priority to prevent deaths.
On Monday a group of 12 Iranians, including a 10-year-old child, were interviewed by immigration officials after they came ashore near Lydd-on-Sea, in Kent. Six Iranian men were also found on a beach near Deal in Kent on Sunday morning.
The Red Cross, which provides refugee support services across Kent including food parcels and clothing, said Iranian asylum seekers were often some of the most destitute. Iranians have made up the highest number of asylum applications to the UK every year for the past three years, though numbers have fallen, according to Home Office figures.
The majority of asylum seekers in the UK are successful. In 2017, 45 per cent were given asylum in their first application and almost half of those who appealed the decision were also allowed to remain. – Guardian