Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has been called out by critics for attempting to deflect blame from current government immigration policies by launching an offensive against social media companies.
It is no secret that the current UK government has taken a harsh and cruel approach towards immigration, in particular in areas such as Channel crossings by refugees, over the past few years. Recent policies have been aimed at directly obstructing the crossing of the English Channel by those wishing to seek asylum in the UK in an attempt to deter migrants from coming into the country. However, this has not necessarily been successful in its aim, and has instead left migrants desperate enough to partake in dangerous and unsafe methods of making it to the UK.
Recently, Priti Patel has been seen to try and deflect focus from the effects of the Home Office's policies by arguing that social media companies are allowing Channel crossings to be 'glamourised' in videos and photos posted on their platforms. She wrote to the firms, stating that she felt they should be doing more to remove the "totally unacceptable clips" which are promoting "lethal crossings". This attack was spurred on by a viral video posted on TikTok that showcased a group of men attempting to cross the channel in a dinghy, with similar content featuring on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Patel's anxieties seem incredibly misplaced, as her argument completely ignores the fact that such crossings are occurring. To some extent it seems somewhat authoritarian of her to suggest that such videos should be taken down, when dangerous crossings are taking place as a result of policies that her department are designing and enforcing. It is not social media promoting the crossings, it is her policies. Her department are choosing to enact 'hostile' policies which are placing migrants in these dangerous situations, with social media simply acting as a means for people to expose the true realities of how the immigration laws are affecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Minnie Rahman, the campaigns director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has said that, "Social media companies have a responsibility to keep people safe, but it is no surprise that Patel is looking to place the blame outside of the Home Office". She continued to say, "Patel has chosen to take a frantic, chaotic and irresponsible approach to the asylum system, which will only push desperate people further into the hands of people smugglers and traffickers, and make journeys more deadly. The government must stop ignoring all evidence, stay committed to the refugee convention and ensure that people are able to travel to the UK safely".
The method of Channel crossing is becoming more common amongst desperate migrants. In the first four months of 2021, there were a total of 2,108 people attempting to make the journey, more than double that of the first 4 months of 2020. In just a 3-day period in May 2021, nearly 600 people were intercepted trying to make the crossing.
However, often in media depictions and general public consensus, such a journey is portrayed as being voluntary and an unnecessary risk. However, as Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, has argued, "There is nothing remotely glamourous about Channel crossings… Despite the fact that most refugees don't choose to come to the UK, there are those who have their only remaining family here or have other connections that are strong enough to be worth risking their lives for. In those desperate cases, the lack of a safe alternative pathways makes a dangerous trip in an unsuitable boat the only viable option".
Instead of shifting blame, it is absolutely necessary that Priti Patel and the Home Office begin to acknowledge and take responsibility for the role their policies play in forcing migrants into incredibly dangerous and life-threatening situations. Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, has stated, "Creating safe routes to the UK — through an expanded resettlement programme, humanitarian visas, and reforming the restrictive family reunion rules — is what the government needs to be focusing on to address the issue". The UK government should be viewing refugees and individuals seeking asylums as human beings, and supporting them onto the pathways they need to be on, such as indefinite leave to remain and British citizenship.
As Priti Patel put it in her letter to social media firms, "What these posts don't mention are the people who have died trying to make this crossing, or those forced to spend 13 hours in unseaworthy boats in freezing waters". She may be right, but the questions she needs to be asking are what and whose policies are the ones causing the deaths?