We are proud to publish the following article by James Cox, President Home Office group (personal capacity) and Left Unity member.
The continued refugee crisis involving small boats crossing the channel has been ongoing for several years now but has recently received much more scrutiny. PCS members working in the Home Office have been at the front line of this. Members have been deeply affected by the amount and intensity of the work and traumatised by the things they have seen.
Individuals have shown barely believable desperation and determination as they attempt life threatening, dangerous journeys across the channel in flimsy vessels. This culminated on the 25 November when at least 27 people tragically died trying to cross the channel. As further stories about the individuals emerge, their backgrounds, names and reasons for travel, the disaster becomes more real and ever more heart-breaking.
Ministers have of course been quick to condemn the criminal gangs exploiting many of these individuals and restated their desire to stop the crossings. However, the absence of safe routes to claim asylum in the UK means that many people feel that they have no choice but to try to make these crossings.
Although recently published migration figures show that asylum applications are at their highest since 2004, these are still below levels of applications in France and many other European countries. Furthermore, recent figures show that nearly two thirds of applicants are granted some form of protection status, putting a lie to any claims of widespread abuse of the system.
Unsurprisingly some have tried to exploit the crisis with an article in the Times questioning the 1951 Refugee Convention and Conservative MPs in Parliament talk about scrapping the Human Rights Act which enshrines the European Convention of Human Rights in UK law. These laws and international treaties may well be imperfect, but they are attempts to create a better and less barbarous world. PCS members charged with upholding and implementing these laws in the Home Office take pride in this.
Our members in Border Force have also been at the forefront of rescuing individuals at risk during crossing. Lives have been saved. But in a well-publicised move the Home Secretary wishes to implement a new policy involving ‘pushbacks’ a process of attempting to direct small boats back to France. This is an inherently dangerous policy, which appears to place border control over the safety of individuals.
We have a duty to ensure our members are protected and operating inside the law, and if this means questioning whether Ministers instigating policies are operating lawfully then our union must challenge this. That’s why PCS is joining the charity Care4Calais in a joint Judicial Review which seeks disclosure of the ‘pushback’ policy and subsequent challenge of this.
It’s easy when looking at the news and statistics to forget the people involved. Every person crossing the channel is an individual with their own history, family, and reasons for coming to the UK. Many of us may know refugees in our families, communities, and workplaces. I’m proud that my union is linking those affected by the policy with those forced to implement it.
For more details about Care4Calais click here
For details of solidarity vigils click here