November is the cruellest month: The scandal of deaths in the Channel

”you have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” – from the poem ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire
This summer, the government was urged to make safe passage and legal routes to the UK for people fleeing Afghanistan.


Labour’s Lisa Nandy warned that the government dragging its feet on this would cost lives.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded by promising to “move heaven and earth” to get fleeing Afghans to safety in the UK.


He promised an Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme to take 5000 people this year and 20,000 in the long-term.


However, just this week, the government admitted that the Afghan resettlement scheme still hasn’t been created. In Parliament this week it emerged that Victoria Atkins, the minister in charge of the programme, has no timescale in place even to begin bringing Afghans to safety in the UK.


A few days ago, an Afghan soldier who worked with British forces drowned trying to reach the UK.


He was one of over thirty people, including children, who tragically lost their lives whilst attempting to cross the English Channel in order to seek asylum in the UK.


You might think that such a tragedy would be a turning point for the government to change its approach. But they have doubled down on the approach which led to these deaths.


They know that their current set-up pushes asylum seekers into the arms of people smugglers and traffickers. But they don’t care enough to make credible attempts to change this.


The more the government tries to put up barriers, the more dangerous the journeys for asylum seekers become.


Travelling many miles across the sea in a small dinghy, crammed full of people, knowing it could well be the last thing you ever do, is a terrifying prospect.


But for people coming to the UK to seek asylum after fleeing unimaginable horror – such as life under the Taliban – it is their only option.


There are currently no safe routes by which people seeking asylum can reach the UK. This fuels business for people smugglers. Protecting people from these smugglers starts by providing meaningful alternatives to reach the UK – safe passage and legal routes. It sounds obvious because it is.


But apparently too difficult a solution for a Tory Government which has built political power on rhetoric and policies which demonise asylum seekers, migrants, and even black British citizens, as demonstrated by the Windrush Scandal.


We have had years of headlines drip-fed from the Home Secretary’s office reporting that she has considered ideas for border policy such as using nets to stall the boats crossing the channel, constructing floating walls in the sea to block them, and using a wave machine to physically push them away from UK shores.


You only have to look at the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which the Home Office is being taken to court for possibly breaching international and human rights law if it makes its way onto the statute book.

The Prime Minister’s typically clownish response to the tragedy in the Channel has been to spark a major diplomatic row with France, ally of the UK, our nearest neighbours, and a country the government will need to work with if it has serious intentions of addressing the issue of dangerous Channel crossings.


At minimum, the government should deliver on pledges like the Afghan Resettlement Scheme. Boris Johnson has a habit of throwing out cheap bait to his friendly newspapers during crises, in hope that the public furore fades away.


He then fails to deliver on his promises to help people, some of whom – I’m sorry that the reality is so morbid – are now dead.


Time and time again, we see a politics from the Conservative Party which sells voters the promise of “Global Britain” whilst withdrawing from the international stage, cutting development funding and failing to offer safety to those they have left vulnerable around the world.


These actions have never and will never be the solution. The time to build an alternative narrative around asylum seekers, migrants and borders is long overdue and the Left has a duty to lead it.


For more, please read the JCWI briefing on how to prevent further tragedies in the future, and introduce safe routes for people seeking safety in the UK.

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