"The reality is that people will still cross the Channel in search of safety, despite reforms"
Last updated 25 April 2023
Chief executive Mike Adamson believes the window of opportunity to help the 82 million people who have now been forced to leave their homes is closing. The world needs to pull together and help.
"Reports of more lives lost in the English Channel recently are truly heart-breaking. They come far too soon after other recent deaths on this route. Our thoughts are with their loved ones, who may not even know yet what has happened.
"In recent weeks, there have been at least three people who have tragically lost their lives attempting to cross the Channel in the hope of finding safety here in the UK. People who, with many others, have felt so desperate that they’ve climbed into a flimsy, rickety boat even as conditions get worse as winter approaches.
"Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options. Everyone deserves to live in safety and it should be unacceptable to us that people have no choice but to make dangerous crossings in their search for this.
"There are no simple answers, but we urge the Government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access. This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year.
"At the same time, there are harrowing scenes at the border between Poland and Belarus of women, men and children stuck without humanitarian support between two countries. It’s been reported that a number of these people have died due to being homeless and with very few possessions in the freezing weather.
"The Belarus, Polish and Lithuanian Red Cross teams have been supporting people close to the borders with warm blankets, clothes, water and food. The Red Cross and Red Crescent is calling for urgent de-escalation of the situation at the Belarus-Poland border and for immediate access for their teams in order to prevent more deaths.
These women, men and children need humanitarian assistance, and fast. While these may seem like situations at opposite ends of Europe, thousands of miles apart, they are part of the same global challenge.
"At the British Red Cross, we know from our experience supporting displaced people here in the UK and all over the world, through the international Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, that refugee journeys are filled with risk, rejection and danger. It can often be many years after fleeing their homes before people are able to feel safe.
"In fact, the Home Office’s own statistics show that the vast majority of those making the journey across the Channel come from countries that are internationally recognised as being in the grips of conflict or with high rates of persecution.
"Those people whose plight is captured in news bulletins at borders in and around Europe say they are from places like Afghanistan, which is undeniably in turmoil right now.
No one country alone can solve these complex and global issues. But, right at this moment, when we need countries to work together and to share responsibility of the increasing migration, it seems the doors may be closing.
"While the UK can rightly be proud of welcoming and supporting thousands of people from Afghanistan over the past few weeks, the government is at the same time pushing through asylum reforms that would deny many others, who are equally in need, the chance to apply for asylum.
"The proposed changes seem so arbitrary and unfair when you consider this recent warm welcome and how it contrasts to what happens to those who arrive via “irregular” routes, such as by small boat or lorry – some of whom will be from Afghanistan but were not able to get on a plane. Already they are automatically penalised on the basis of how they arrived here. And the UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill – which has now passed into law - proposes to strengthen this approach further.
"The reforms are meant to deter people from making dangerous journeys, provide more safe routes, and break the business models of people smugglers. These are laudable aims and yet, sadly, we believe there is nothing in the plans that will achieve them. If anything, they could make it harder for people to access safe routes, reduce access to the UK’s asylum system, and result in people who do get to the UK having a harder time.
With 1 per cent of the world's population forced to flee their homes and already on the move, we can and should do more in the UK. By no means can we support all of those 82 million people, but we can certainly do more than is being proposed.
"This means strengthening our approach as Global Britain, leading efforts for international cooperation and dialogue and putting the humanitarian needs of people at the heart of policies and funding. It should also include removing plans from the Nationality and Borders Bill that will criminalise and deny the small proportion of people who actually do reach our shores to seek asylum, rather than provide them with a fair hearing on their need for protection.
"There is a notable lack of detail in the Nationality and Borders Bill on what new safe options will be opened for people who need protection. And there is still no plan outlined for a global resettlement scheme. If the government is serious about protecting the most at risk, it should make a clear commitment to resettle at least 10,000 people each year in the UK, in a well-funded programme focused on integration.
"These simple steps would ensure a warm British welcome is felt by all. Altogether, we’re talking about relatively small numbers but the impact for each and every one of those women, men and children would be huge.
"The recent tragedies should be a wake-up call that the current tactics and those proposed are not and will not work. We have to face the reality that people will continue to seek safety in any means they can – wouldn’t we all do the same, for ourselves and for our loved ones?
"We’ve shown we can warmly welcome thousands from Afghanistan. This is something to be proud of. Surely, we must provide similar safe options to many others fleeing from other parts of the world in need of them too."
More on our work with refugees
Chief executive of the British Red Cross
Mike Adamson has been chief executive of the British Red Cross since 2014.
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