Interview: Multilateral, humanitarian responses crucial to tackle illegal immigration: academic

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LONDON, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- Multilateral and humanitarian responses, much more effective than just border control, are needed to tackle illegal immigration in a sustainable way, a British scholar has said.

"There are no national solutions," Lucy Mayblin, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Sheffield, told Xinhua in an interview after 27 migrants drowned on the journey from France to Britain on Wednesday.


Mayblin noted that Britain's asylum applications have not increased significantly in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels. "In fact they plummeted during the pandemic," she said.

However, small boats crossing the English Channel have increased because people are taking these risky routes as other cheaper or safer routes, such as an aeroplane or a ferry, become impossible due to strict border control.

"This is a common outcome. All over the world, research has consistently found that because refugees don't disappear when you close borders to them, and they are usually in a very desperate situation. They always seek alternative routes," she said.

Mayblin said strict border controls funnel people into the arms of smugglers, an unintended consequence of the government policy.

"They create a business model for smugglers. And the outcome is a deadly spiral of increasingly dangerous routes being taken, stricter border controls, more deaths, and so the spiral continues," she explained.

Mayblin said most people don't actually get very far, with 85 percent of the world's refugees in countries neighboring the one they fled. Often, people travel far because they experience ill treatment or hardship in the countries they travel through, or because they have family in a particular foreign country who they want to reunite with.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Thursday that she has reached out and made offer very clear to France in terms of joint France and Britain cooperation, joint patrols to prevent these dangerous journeys from taking place.


Mayblin said many displaced people have applied for asylum in France, but remain destitute while they wait to be accommodated, and many lose hope in the French asylum system as this occurs.

"The UK is not a top destination. Only a tiny number of people want to get to the UK, viewed by many as a 'fair country' which... offers safety and the possibility of a better future," she said.

"This latter reason is often connected with English being the lingua franca of colonial rule...None of these groups can enter Britain legally in order to seek asylum, not least because the UK routinely circumvents international refugee law," she said.

The British government announced in July that it will overhaul its asylum system to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the country without permission. Patel said people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and nobody needs to flee France in order to be safe.

In a letter to his French counterpart, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed allowing all illegal immigrants who crossed the Channel to be returned to significantly reduce the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers.

Angered by the British move, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Johnson's public letter was "unacceptable" and withdrew invitation for British home secretary's presence at talks with other European countries in Calais on Sunday.


Admitting there is no simple fix to illegal migration, Mayblin said the only sustainable responses are multilateral, and there are no national solutions.

"There are no solutions to refugee migration, apart from ending all wars, but there are more sustainable responses, which means recognizing that the issue is long term and complex, and cannot be solved today by giving the French police more money or putting a wave machine in the Channel," she said.

She said multilateral responses have to involve wealthy states accepting that refugees exist and agreeing to play a serious role in hosting them. For example, the UK hosts less than 1 percent of the world's refugees, she noted.

She said currently, rich countries' main contribution is funding for the UN Refugee Agency to quarantine people in camps in their regions of origin, and spending billions every year on border fences, patrols, pushbacks, deportations, and detention centers.

She called on decision makers to put human dignity at the heart of any answer to the question of how can they stop people risking their lives to cross the Channel.

The answer then becomes focused on securing people's access to basic human rights: sanitary accommodation, access to healthcare, free legal advice, freedom from police harassment and brutality, securing access to family reunification and so on, Mayblin said.

"The UK Home Office is advertising 385-million-pound (about 512-million-U.S.-dollar) worth of contracts for border controls in Calais next year alone," she noted. "How might this money be spent if human dignity were put at the heart of a plan to develop sustainable responses?" Enditem

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