Over 90% of migrants from countries where human rights abuses and persecution are common

Most migrants crossing the English Channel to the UK are refugees fleeing persecution, analysis by campaigners suggests.

Research by the Refugee Council indicates around a third of the men, women and children making the journey would not be allowed to remain in the UK and that the “majority of people crossing the Channel are likely to be recognised as being in need of protection” at the initial decision stage.

The findings come as one of the Government’s immigration ministers Tom Pursglove and Clandestine Channel Threat Commander Dan O’Mahoney are due to appear before MPs on Wednesday.

Using Home Office statistics and data obtained through freedom of information laws, the charity said it found that between January 2020 and June this year, 91% of migrants came from 10 countries where human rights abuses and persecution are common – including Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen.

The charity’s research indicates overall for the top 10 countries of origin arriving by small boat, 61% of initial decisions made in the 18 months to June 2021 would have resulted in refugee protection being granted.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed 70% of those travelling to the UK across the Channel were “not genuine asylum seekers” and the Government was “concentrating” its efforts on “creating safe passage for genuine refugees”.

Speaking to the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee, she said: “In the last 12 months alone 70% of the individuals who have come to our country illegally via small boats are single men, who are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers.

“They are able to pay the smugglers … These are the ones who are elbowing out the women and children, who are at risk and fleeing persecution.”

The Refugee Council’s chief executive Enver Solomon (pictured) said: “The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression.

“This government should show compassion by welcoming those who need refugee protection rather than seeking to cruelly push them back across the channel or punish them with imprisonment. At the same time there needs to be an ambitious expansion of safe routes so people don’t have to take dangerous journeys to reach safety.”

The charity has called on the Government to rethink its Nationality and Borders Bill, which is making its way through Parliament and intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission.

This means that, for the first time, how someone enters the UK – legally or “illegally” – will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has also called for the legislation to be scrapped, warning it could worsen the mental health of refugees and migrants.

Separate research suggests rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in detained refugees and migrants are around twice as high as for those not in immigration detention.

The review of evidence published in the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ BJPsych Open journal analysed nine studies conducted over the past two decades focusing on the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Switzerland.

Some 23,075 refugees and migrants were detained in the UK between April 2019 and March 2020, according to Home Office figures.

A department spokesman said the UK had a “long history of welcoming those in genuine need” but “we must put an end to dangerous journeys”, adding: “Our New Plan for Immigration provides the only long-term solution to fix the broken system and that’s why we’re changing the law to deter illegal entry and break the deadly business model of the people smugglers.”

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