Campaigners challenge minister on Channel crossings

Prominent refugee and human rights campaigners and faith bodies including Quakers in Britain, are urging the government to end dangerous Channel crossings by introducing safe and legal routes of entry to UK.

overcrowded small boat in expanse of sea
There need to safe and legal routes of entry to the UK. Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In a letter to Priti Patel MP, they say no-one should have to risk their lives seeking protection in the UK. But safe routes are almost non-existent.

The letter seeks the full implementation of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. It warns that the “pattern of ignoring expert advice, failing to engage with civil society, and branding migrants as criminal," replicates Home Office failings that caused the 2018 Windrush scandal.

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk, signed the letter for Quakers in Britain.

The full text of the letter, initiated by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants:

Dear Priti Patel MP,

We are writing to you regarding the ongoing Channel crossings and the UK government's response, particularly considering your stated commitment to implementing the Windrush Lessons Learned Review Recommendations.

The small number of people seeking entry to the UK in this way are doing so because there are simply no safe and legal routes of entry to the UK. The majority have family or loved ones in the UK, are at risk of exploitation by people traffickers and smugglers and are fleeing war or persecution. Like you, we would like to see an end to Channel crossings which take place in this way. We do not want anyone to have to risk their lives trying to enter the UK.

Whilst search and rescue operations are essential to prevent further loss of life, deployment of the Navy in the Channel is not a permanent or reasonable solution and will only push people further into the hands of people traffickers. We deplore any suggestion that the Navy should breach international refugee or maritime law by 'pushing back' boats seeking to reach safety on our shores.


We do not want anyone to have to risk their lives trying to enter the UK.

- Letter to Priti Patel


You will be aware that in 2019 the Foreign Affairs Select Committee – of which you were a member – warned that “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." We are disappointed that the UK government is continuing to pursue this failed approach despite copious evidence and advice presented to the government by the Select Committee and numerous civil society organisations.

We note that this pattern of ignoring expert advice, failing to engage with civil society and branding migrants as “criminal" is the same set of conditions which led to the Windrush scandal. A key recommendation from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review urged government to implement policies based on evidence and transparent decision-making.

Instead of taking a compassionate approach and listening to affected communities and experts, Ministers, the Prime Minister and Home Office officials have responded by seeking to discredit experts, lawyers, and others who have warned of dangerous consequences to the government's approach. Most notably:

1.A Home Office spokesperson claimed: “While we are unable to comment on ongoing legal proceedings, it is the case that the current legal framework is often abused by activist lawyers to frustrate the government's attempts in this regard."


It is legal for a refugee to enter the UK without documents in order to seek sanctuary

- Letter to Priti Patel


Lawyers work within the legal framework set out by Parliament, and act in their clients' interests. It is extremely dangerous for the executive to attack lawyers for doing their jobs. It is completely unacceptable for the Home Office to mount attacks on the rule of law, and those seeking to enforce it.

2.In response to a thread on social media in which the ice cream company Ben & Jerry's set out a detailed set of evidence and recommendations from experts on the humane and effective solutions to make refugee journeys safer, an anonymous source within the Home Office said: "Priti is working day and night to bring an end to these small boat crossings, which are facilitated by international criminal gangs and are rightly of serious concern to the British people. If that means upsetting the social media team for a brand of overpriced junk food, then so be it." Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said "Can I have a large scoop of statistically inaccurate virtue signalling with my grossly overpriced ice cream, please?"

Neither of these ad hominem attacks respond to the evidence or expert recommendations that Ben & Jerry's referenced in their thread. In the Lessons Learned Review Wendy Williams recommends that “ministers should make clear that they expect officials to seek out a diverse range of voices and prioritise community-focused policy by engaging with communities, civil society and the public." She also expresses concern at a “a defensive culture in the department, which often defends, deflects and dismisses criticism." This extraordinary attack from the top levels of government to constructive, evidence-based criticism is not in line with the Windrush review recommendations.

3.Ministers, officials and the Prime Minister have repeatedly referred to the crossings as illegal. As you know, it is legal for a refugee to enter the UK without documents in order to seek sanctuary. As the UK does not provide a visa route that allows entry in order to make a claim for protection, and does not provide adequate resettlement or refugee family reunion, the only way to make a claim is to do so on British soil.

This leaves people with legitimate legal cause to come to the UK and seek humanitarian protection with no legal means of doing so. To brand this as “illegal" or “criminal" activity is irresponsible and wrong and is precisely the same rhetoric that led to the wrongful detention and deportation of the Windrush generation. The government must stop using such language and misstating the law – particularly as both the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Wendy Williams have pointed out the dangers of wrongly using the language of criminality.

Those who continue to fight for the rights of the Windrush generation, people seeking asylum and migrants recognise this sort of behaviour from government. It is precisely the refusal to listen to evidence and advice, the refusal to recognise the humanity of those affected, and an attitude that treats outside expertise and knowledge as opposition that have led to chaos and dysfunction in the Home Office.

If the lessons of the Windrush scandal are to be learned, and power taken away from people traffickers, the government must now take an approach based on pragmatic and evidence-led solutions. We call on the government to introduce safe and legal routes of entry to the UK, including by introducing Humanitarian Visas, expanding the Family Reunification Rules, and properly funding and extending the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. We would also like to see the government renew its commitment to the Dubs scheme and work closely with the French government to take shared responsibility for those seeking asylum in the UK, and immediately guarantee an adequate route for all those who are currently eligible to enter the UK under the family reunification provisions of the Dublin regulations who stand to lose that right on 31 December 2020.

We invite you to meet with a wide range of civil society groups to create a safe system for people to come to the UK to claim asylum. This should include members of the Windrush generation, those providing services to people seeking asylum in the UK and in the EU, and migrants who have been affected by the current system.

We hope that we can work together to end the need for dangerous journeys to the UK once and for all.

Yours sincerely,

1.Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

2.Michael Braithwaite, Windrush Survivor & Campaigner

3.Sekeena Muncey & Glenda Andrew, Co-Founders, Preston Windrush Generation Descendants UK

Read the full list of signatories from 100 organisations

Quakers welcome people seeking sanctuary