Safe routes for all
Successive UK governments have made it increasingly difficult to arrive in the country through authorised routes. People seeking safety, predominantly People of Colour from the Global South, find themselves in a ‘Catch-22’. The amount of safe, humanitarian routes have been stripped back, thereby creating the concept of the ‘illegal’ route.
Current routes available to migrants are available to very select groups. These include the UK Resettlement Scheme, Community Sponsorship Scheme, Mandate Resettlement Scheme, Refugee Family Reunion, Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and the Immigration Route for British Nationals Overseas. However, it is clear these schemes are restrictive and that many ‘eligible’ people are refused.
“In my tiny boat, there were about 45 people. Some people got sea sick and had panic attacks. People were vomiting and fainting. We got lost in the sea for hours trying to navigate. We almost lost hope but luckily we were spotted by a rescue boat.”
By criminalising forced migrants arriving on small boats the UK Government constructs de facto unsafe passages to the UK. This leads to serious emotional and psychological harm, and deaths in the channel, all of which defy the UK’s human rights obligations in Article 3 of the ECHR. Furthermore, the limited existence of these routes and specifically who they are open to, should raise questions about the concept of who is welcome. The lack of “safe routes” from a wide range of areas ultimately forces people into so-called ‘illegal’ routes such as crossing the Channel in small boats. Arguably, the increasingly restrictive measures set out in the Government’s proposed legislation has constructed the label of an “illegal immigrant” and limited options for safe passage.
What should safe routes look like?
A group of single, male asylum seekers shared their experiences of crossing the Channel in order to seek safety. They told us there were many reasons why they crossed the Channel including the fact applying for a UK visa was incredibly difficult. Multiple rejections, difficulty accessing resources or infrastructure to physically apply for a visa and inability to apply for a visa while running from persecution are just some of the numerous issues facing asylum seekers.
“I don’t know how they did it with Ukraine but I like that approach. All I know is that Ukrainians got better treatment than us.”
Members of our Network told us they would like to see the model used in the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine scheme) or the Ukraine Family Scheme visa route. Additionally, asylum seekers and refugees stated that they would like the UK Government to make it easier for family reunification.
The sector is campaigning hard on the issue of introducing safe routes. However, the voices and experiences of migrants and refugees have been largely omitted from this conversation.
As a charity predominantly led by lived experience, and which strives to use our platform to amplify the voices of migrants and refugees, we believe it’s vital that people with refugee experience should design what these safe routes look like. This is to ensure that future policy decisions are based on lived experience, and not on assumptions.