Should immigration in the UK be limited

After Brexit, London wants to tighten its asylum policy - and is inspired by the EU of all things

Boris Johnson's government wants to stop migration across the English Channel: Asylum seekers who come into the country via a safe third country should no longer receive long-term protection in Great Britain. But after Brexit, the Europeans feel little desire to help the British with it.

Most observers agree: dissatisfaction with immigration contributed significantly to the Brexit vote in 2016. It is therefore important for Boris Johnson's government to curb immigration when implementing Brexit. At the beginning of the year, a new point system took the place of the EU free movement of persons, which makes immigration much more difficult for the low-skilled. A few days ago the government presented a plan to "regain control" of the asylum system. The goal of Interior Minister Priti Patel: Anyone who crosses the English Channel irregularly on board a truck or a refugee boat from France should find a hostile environment and leave Great Britain as quickly as possible.

Those who enter illegally will be punished

The reform plan shows parallels with the EU's asylum policy, which concluded a controversial agreement with Turkey in 2016. According to this, asylum seekers who arrive irregularly via the Aegean Sea on the Greek islands should be sent back to the safe third country Turkey according to a fast-track procedure. In return, the EU countries undertook to bring refugees to Europe by plane. The Patel reform takes this principle even further: in future, only those in need of protection who have arrived via legal channels should be able to stay in Great Britain in the long term. However, anyone who enters irregularly via a safe third country should be repatriated or at most receive subsidiary protection - without stable residence rights and with limited access to social benefits.

Number of asylum applications in 2020

In a sense, the British asylum debate reflects the European problem on a small scale: while the EU wants to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, the UK is trying to prevent secondary migration across the English Channel. In 2020, 8,500 boat migrants reached the British island from France - four times as many as in the previous year. With just under 30,000 asylum applications last year, the UK is far less affected than Germany, France or Spain, which recorded between 102,500 and 82,000 applications. Admittedly, this does little to change the alarmism with which the British tabloids are reporting on the arrival of the refugee boats.

Search for offshore centers

The government has abandoned the idea of ​​deterring boat migrants in the English Channel with a sea blockade or with wave machines. Nevertheless, human rights organizations sharply criticize the distinction between legally and illegally entered migrants. Around 60 percent of all asylum seekers enter the country by smugglers, legal routes are often not available, and the government's plans to create legal alternatives remain vague. When asked, Peter Walsh from the Migration Observatory research institute at Oxford University stated that the previous British interpretation of the Geneva Refugee Convention from 1951 does not allow people seeking protection to be punished for illegal entry.

Patel's reform, which is now being drafted into a bill, also raises practical questions. The government is toying with the idea of ​​accommodating irregularly arrived asylum seekers in offshore centers in third countries or British overseas territories based on the Australian model. When looking for a location, however, London did not find it. In return, representatives of the Isle of Man or Gibraltar rejected media reports that they could host British asylum centers. Brussels, too, once tried to set up EU asylum centers in North Africa and the Balkans - but no country was ever persuaded to tolerate such EU camps on its territory.

Are EU countries taking back migrants?

For the EU, border protection is also based on cooperation between the neighbors on the other side of the Mediterranean; Brussels is currently interested in renewing the refugee pact with Turkey, which of course has counterclaims. Similarly, Great Britain depends on the cooperation of France and the EU if it wants to reject asylum seekers who have entered via a safe third country. By the end of 2020, the British were part of the Dublin system; it regulated the repatriation of asylum seekers who had already been registered in another European country. In practice, the system worked poorly. But since the Brexit agreement between London and Brussels excludes asylum policy, London has had no legal basis at all for sending asylum seekers back to EU countries since the beginning of the year.

The government is now aiming for bilateral readmission agreements - so far without results. Paris sent a message that London should deposit its request directly in Brussels. Given the quarrels and rivalries over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the corona vaccinations, the EU's goodwill is low. Brexit Britain can now confidently tighten its asylum legislation, but without the cooperation of international partners the real benefits remain limited.