Yesterday evening saw the single biggest loss of life in the English Channel in recent years – the death of two children – aged five and eight, along with two adults, after a migrant boat sank off the coast of northern France.
Sadly, this story and the subsequent response from our government has become all too routine.
Asylum-seekers desperately seeking safety in England are deprived of safe and legal routes to safety, are treated without humanity, and without any other plausible options on offer from the callous British government, are driven in desperation to such drastic measures.
Following the reports of these deaths, politicians offer up their sympathies. Indeed, both Priti Patel and Boris Johnson have expressed their condolences, making sure that both of their apologies refer to the “ruthless criminals” or “callous criminals” who they attribute to be at the helm of these tragic losses.
In both cases, they abdicate culpability from a situation that the British government bears responsibility for. Their apologies have become as rehearsed as the faux compassion that they show.
These words ring incredibly hollow given the government’s barbaric stance on asylum seekers and those seeking refugee. Words mean nothing without actions to back them up.
Rather than pinning the blame on traffickers or migrants themselves, Patel should accept responsibility for the actions of her government, or rather lack thereof.
Speaking to the Conservative Party conference earlier this year Patel said: “Those defending the broken [asylum] system – the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party – they are defending the indefensible”.
Is it indefensible to want a system that doesn’t force children to row in a boat across the Channel and die in the process?
Rather than implement punitive deterrents, the government should allow for safe legal access to prevent what are such preventable tragedies, at a time when the world does not need any more needless death.
Last week, Lord Dubs, a former child refugee himself, proposed for the fourth time an amendment to an immigration bill that would ensure that lone child refugees had the legal right to family reunion after the UK leaves the EU on 31 December.
But, as the government, with a majority of 80, has thrown out the amendment three times before, it is likely they will do so again, leaving no safe alternates in its place.
The one successful bid that Lord Dubs had previously secured – that the Home Office were obliged to accept at least 3,000 child refugees for resettlement – was compromised by ministers who placed a cap on the numbers.
Last week, it was reported that those children – some as young as 12 – who have been able to make the journey across the Channel on small boats are being sent to adult detention centres where their safety and conditions are questionable.
Time and time again this government has thwarted measures which offer basic humanity to some of the most vulnerable people which has lead to the death and endangerment of children.
Rather than proposing draconian measures such as transferring asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea or Ascension Island, the government need to take responsibility for those who are attempting to travel to Britain with substantial measures rather than letting innocent children die.
In 2019, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which Patel was on, 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”.
She was warned this would be the outcome, yet Patel only thinks of the cost of asylum. She told the Conservative Party conference that asylum seekers costs the UK £1bn a year – is that a humane way of thinking about the value of someone seeking safety’s life?
Surely it is a waste of more time and money to order Parliamentary inquiries and reports if advice that does not fit the government agenda is so brazenly disregarded.
Charities have said these deaths should serve as a “wake-up call” to those in power to realise that rigid borders and the current approach is not working for anyone. We do not need more of the same – we need secure routes for those seeking asylum.
The facts are that in the past decade more than 10,000 unaccompanied children have risked their lives to enter Britain, with more than 4,900 people entering the UK via small boats.
We continue to hear of more cruel and tragic unnecessary deaths, and we repeatedly see the government voting against protections for child refugees.
The government needs to wake up and recognise that there is no safety in empty condolences – but there is reassurance in safe legal routes.
Maighna Nanu is a freelance journalist.