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Migrant crossings: What happens to migrants who reach the UK?

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By Alice Aitken
BBC News

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  • Europe migrant crisis

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The body of a 16-year-old boy who had reportedly been attempting to cross the Channel has been found on a French beach. The tragedy has prompted more debate over the cross-Channel migrant route and what action should be taken.

Some campaigners want a safe and legal route introduced for migrants but there has also been focus on the role of people smugglers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that asylum laws could be changed to put migrants off crossing the English Channel in small boats.

What are those laws and what happens to migrants once they reach the UK?

What happens to migrants in the English Channel?

If migrants are found in UK national waters, it is likely they will be brought to a British port.

If they are in international waters, the UK will work with French authorities to decide where to take them. However, there are established search-and-rescue zones assigned to each country.

Given the short distance between Dover and Calais, there are no international waters in the main area the migrants cross.

Once migrants are in the UK, they are usually taken to short-term holding centres.

  • What happens to migrants found in the Channel?

  • Why are migrants crossing the English Channel?
  • What and where Channel migrants are escaping from

Can they be sent back to France?

Under international law, people have the right to seek asylum in any country they arrive in. There’s nothing to say they must seek asylum in the first safe country reached.

However, under an EU law called Dublin III asylum seekers can be transferred back to the first member state they entered.

Entry into the original EU country must be proven – either through fingerprinting records or an asylum claim.

Since January 2019, about 155 migrants who crossed the English Channel have been returned to mainland Europe. Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, recently told MPs another 166 were ready to be returned and officials had asked Europe to receive almost 600 more.

But the UK will no longer be able to use Dublin III to send asylum seekers back to other EU member states at the end of the transition, on 31 December.

If it wants to continue returns, it will need to negotiate a new deal with the whole of the EU or each individual nation.

What are the rules for claiming asylum in the UK?

Many of the migrants crossing the English Channel claim asylum once they arrive in the UK. Asylum seekers hope to receive refugee status, meaning they can stay.

To be eligible, they must prove they cannot return to their home country because they fear persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, gender identity or sexual orientation.

They can include their partner and any children under 18 in the application if they are also in the UK.

Decisions on whether someone has a valid reason to claim asylum will be made by a caseworker. They look at things such as the country of origin of the asylum seeker or evidence of discrimination.

This is supposed to be done within six months, although most wait longer than this.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionA Border Force vessel brings a group of men into Dover

What financial support do asylum seekers receive?

Once an asylum application is under way, help with housing and money to live on is provided while the claim is processed.

Most asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work.

Asylum seekers get no choice in where they live. Most are initially placed in hostel-type accommodation before longer-term housing is arranged.

Much of this accommodation has previously been criticised by the immigration watchdog.

Asylum seekers can get a cash allowance of £37.75 per week for each household member, with extra support available for vulnerable groups such as children or pregnant women.

Asylum seekers with an active application are entitled to free healthcare and children must attend school.

What happens if an application is successful?

If someone gets refugee status, they and their dependants are allowed to remain in the country for five years. After five years, they can apply to settle in the UK.

Alternatively, they may get permission to stay for other humanitarian reasons. This means they do not qualify for refugee status but are nevertheless at risk of serious harm on return to the country they came from. This could arise from:

  • the death penalty
  • unlawful killing
  • torture or inhumane or degrading treatment
  • threat to civilian life from armed conflict

Family members not already in the UK can apply to join those with refugee status or humanitarian protection.

They may also be given permission to stay for other reasons – for example, if they are an unaccompanied minor, or a victim of trafficking. How long they can stay will depend on their situation.

In 2019, more than 44,000 people, including dependents, applied for asylum in the UK.

About 19,500 people were offered protection in the UK in the form of refugee status or other protections.

What happens when an asylum claim is rejected?

If asylum is not offered and no other reason to stay in the UK is accepted, the person will be asked to leave the UK, either voluntarily or by force.

They can appeal against the decision, with just over a third of these 5,000 appeals accepted. This is an indicator these individuals are genuine refugees.

Migrants can receive legal aid for these appeals, which can sometimes take years, as well as continued financial and housing support.

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