After a viral video on TikTok portrayed a group of refugees crossing the channel in a rubber dinghy, Priti Patel, the UK’s Home Secretary, has published a letter calling on social media companies to remove posts that “glamourise” migrant crossings.
The Home Office stated that similar posts on sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, are used by people smugglers to promote “lethal crossings”. In her letter, Patel comments that:
“They encourage others to leave a safe European country and put theirs and their family’s life at risk and are even used by people smugglers to promote their deadly business.”
The letter has been seen as an attempt to deflect blame from the government’s failure to provide refugees that enter the UK across the channel with adequate care. Campaign groups have continuously warned that the UK’s approach to reduce immigration has detrimental impacts on refugees and asylum seekers.
The Home Office’s efforts to physically obstruct routes used by refugees does not deter migrants from attempting to enter the UK but rather makes their journey much more dangerous. Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, stated:
“There is nothing remotely glamorous about Channel crossings. Desperate people put their lives at risk to make this journey and for some it is the last trip they make.”
The Government’s New Plan for Immigration has been criticised for directly endangering refugees, as two out of three women and children who would have been accepted under the old plan, no longer qualify under the new rules.
Furthermore, any refugees arriving illegally or with false documents will not be granted the right to remain in the UK, regardless of whether they were fleeing war or unjust persecution in their home country. This is despite the fact that for many refugees there are no official routes for them to enter the UK and that crossing the channel by boat is often the only option.
Minnie Rahman, the campaigns director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, stated that Priti Patel’s immigration plan will:
“…only push desperate people further into the hands of people smugglers and traffickers, and make journeys more deadly.”
In response to the Home Office’s inadequate immigration plan, Kent County Council is threatening Priti Patel with legal action. The council warned that its services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) are at breaking point for the second time in a year. Kent has almost double the safe number of UASCs in care and is days away from not being able to accept new migrant children. In its formal letter to the Home Office, Kent County Council leader Roger Gough commented:
“We have not seen what is most needed: a robust national transfer scheme that prevents port authorities such as Kent coming under unmanageable pressure.”
The letter concluded by stating that should the Home Office fail to respond sufficiently to the Kent County Council proposal by 17 June 2021, it will proceed to issue a claim for judicial review against Priti Patel. So far the Home Office’s response has been limited, a spokesperson commenting that: “Those who attempt to cheat the system place an unjust burden on the taxpayer and prevent genuine asylum seekers from getting support”. Yet it is vital to remember that those crossing the channel illegally do not put their lives in danger in order to burden the UK but rather to escape cruel and unjust living conditions. Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, explained that:
“Children who travel to the UK seeking safety have endured horrific experiences including abuse and exploitation both in their home country and during perilous journeys to our shores. On arrival, it is not unusual for them to have physical injuries, hypothermia, dehydration and be deeply traumatised.”
Priti Patel’s New Immigration Plan and call to remove informative content from social media further contribute to the increased dangers of migration and suffering of one of the most vulnerable groups.