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Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee publishes report on the human cost of irregular migration


Report warns a focus on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups

Date of Publication:
19 November 2019

Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee publishes report on the human cost of irregular migration

19 November 2019

Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month released a report looking at the human cost of irregular migration. You can read it here.

Specifically the report looks at irregular migration to Europe via the Central Mediterranean route, which runs from Sub-Saharan Africa through North Africa to southern Europe.

The Foreign Affairs Committee stresses that the UK will need to work with other European countries to address the issues around irregular migration and it is concerned by the impact Brexit may have on this.

The report states: "Together, we should do more to improve the dire conditions suffered by migrants seeking to enter Europe and those attempting to cross to the UK from northern France. The Government should also work with Italy and other EU member states to ensure a reasonable level of search-and-rescue capacity in the central Mediterranean; although the numbers crossing have dropped recently, the death rate has increased."

On Brexit, the report notes: "The UK is leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, and will need to closely coordinate irregular migration policy with European partners after Brexit. In light of this, we were concerned by the lack of detailed answers from the FCO in our oral evidence session. The Minister's [Heather Wheeler, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the FCO] inability to identify a single change to UK cooperation with European partners on this issue following Brexit was particularly worrying, and points to a lack of focused attention to this issue".

Overall, the Committee warns that if governments adopt a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes, and push them into the hands of criminal groups.

The report expresses deep concern over the lack of search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, noting that author and journalist Charlotte McDonald-Gibson has said Europe is essentially "letting people die as a deterrent."

The Committee is also critical of the EU's migration deals with Libya, which it says has achieved a short-term political 'win' of cutting migrant numbers, but at the cost of fuelling human rights abuses, strengthening armed groups, and undermining stability in the longer term.

Dr Yves Pascouau of European Migration Law told the Committee that the role of the Libyan Coastguard was "to intercept people before they reach the international waters and to send them back to hell." The Committee warns that assistance to the Libyan Coastguard without appropriate oversight risks making the UK complicit in its human rights abuses.

Among its recommendations in the report, the Committee calls for an expansion of legal pathways to apply for asylum outside Europe and work with EU partners to encourage them to do the same.

With the publication of the report coming in the wake of the tragic deaths in Essex last month, the Committee says this should act as a wake up call.

Tom Tugendhat MP, the chair of the Committee, said:

"The case of 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex shocked us all. The full story won't be clear for some time but this tragedy is not alone. Today, hundreds of families across the world are losing loved ones who felt driven to take the fatal gamble to entrust their lives to smugglers.

"This case should serve as a wake-up call to the Foreign Office and to Government. The UK has been relatively isolated from the different migrant crises in recent years – but it's wrong to assume that we are protected from their impact. Right now, the US withdrawal from Syria and the Turkish military operation in to territory formerly held by Kurdish fighters could see an increase in migration flows.

"As the Foreign Affairs Committee has said repeatedly, the UK is leaving the EU, not leaving Europe. The UK has a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution and cooperating with others to protect human rights. We should lead by example. It's crucial that we plan our response to irregular migration together. This means that until we leave the EU, we should return to the meetings where migration is discussed and develop ways to keep channels open with the EU and others.

"The uncertain nature of parliamentary business cut this inquiry short but the Committee hopes to return to the issues in greater detail in future."