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Life Is A Lottery For Asylum Seekers

The death of 39 mostly Vietnamese migrants – including one teenager and eight women – who were tragically discovered frozen to death in the back of a refrigerator truck in Essex last week has disturbed us all. Our consciousnesses collectively stirred to recognise the harrowing and deadly plight of those seeking asylum all around the world.

However, while this government and mainstream media share momentary grief and turn to point fingers at unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers, stringent border force policies have been responsible for hundreds and thousands of mostly preventable migrant deaths, precisely 2,573 worldwide this year alone. Year on year, the efforts of our governments attempts to curb crossings come back to haunt our doorsteps, lest we forget the untimely death of toddler, Alan Kurdis, who washed up ashore a beach in Turkey four years ago reminding us that one third of refugees seeking sanctuary in the EU are children – some of whom travel unaccompanied and alone. 

Sadly, it is no surprise that so many lose their lives when trying to claim asylum. The catch-22 is that asylum seekers must have first fled their home country due to the persecution they face in order to be eligible, yet they can only lodge their asylum claim when physically in the UK.  The closure of safe land routes coupled with the EU’s ambition that saw NGO skippers incarcerated for saving lives, refugees’ wooden fishing boats destroyed purposefully by border force cutters and the replacement of naval rescue mission with CCTV and drones (which won’t – and can’t – save lives), has only served to litter migrant paths with boobytraps and obstacles. And when paths become more dangerous to cross, traffickers benefit from a booming business and refugees pay with their lives.

This initiative will turn the Mediterranean into what the UN describes as a ‘sea of blood’ – if it hasn’t already: April 2015 saw the deadliest stretch of water in the world swallow a fishing trawler containing up to 1,000 migrants. Only 28 survived the disaster in what is described as the Mediterranean’s most catastrophic modern-day wreckage. The Channel has only recently witnessed its first ever refugee drownings these past few months, including one woman who drowned saving children, one man who drowned attempting to swim the journey and another two – one teenager and one man – who met the same fate but were discovered on a beach in Le Touquet, a French beach south of the Calais port. According to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 12 migrants have died while trying to reach the UK since 2014, including one man who fell from a plane to get into London. 

The fact that hundreds of migrants pile into refrigerator trucks and overcrowded rubber dinghies every single day, and opt to walk for days on end with no food and no water just to have their asylum claims heard is a testimony to the violence and persecution they are fleeing from. Life may be a lottery for us all, but only the truly desperate gamble it in search of a better life. 

The deaths of the 39 migrants this week must not be in vain. The Home Office must revaluate the way it treats the world’s most persecuted and tortured individuals, ideally by honouring its commitment to the Family Reunification Scheme which unites asylum-seeking children with family members – a scheme which is thrown into jeopardy due to Brexit. The Home Office must also lift the restrictions on the asylum process and allow migrants to file from within their home countries or in embassies and ports abroad. Calais, for example, could be equipped with juxtaposed immigration enforcement agents who could register asylum claims and escort them safely into the UK. 

EU member states may love to envision ‘Fortress Europe’ as an impermeable Continent laced with barbed wire and patrolled by the iron fist of unforgiving border force cutters, but the reality is that ‘controlled borders’ is a myth. For as long as wars rage on, poverty, sex inequality, LGBT hostility, religious tensions and climate disasters continue to tear the world into tatters, there will be displaced and vulnerable civilians. The UK is bound – legally and morally – to protect them. However, without reform around the current hostile measures in place, more and more refugees will be arriving in the UK already dead, their hopes and dreams of tasting just one day free from torture squashed for all eternity. And what for?

By Olivia Bridge who is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of UK immigration lawyers.