Myth Busters Part 2 : Asylum Seekers and Small Boats

Despite the fact that small boat crossing make up just a fraction of overall UK migration figures, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary James Cleverly have repeatedly stressed their commitment to ‘stopping the boats’. As a result, small boat crossings and asylum seekers have become two of the most salient topics within immigration policy and discourse. The two topics can often be shrouded in myths and misconceptions.

In our previous myth busters article, we dispelled 5 myths about international students, asylum seekers and legal immigrants. In this article, we dispel in detail, 5 immigration myths about asylum seekers and small boats in the UK.

What are small boat crossings?

Small boats refer to vessels people are forced to use to make dangerous journeys across the English Channel. These vessels are usually inflatable boats, dinghies or kayaks, and not suited to the journey.

Crossing the Channel in this way is very dangerous. Since 2018, 56 people have drowned in the English Channel, including 11 children. Due to a lack of safe routes to claim asylum, people are forced to risk their lives to seek safety.

Where countries do the asylum seekers on small boats come from?

In 2023, the most common region of asylum seekers was Asia and the most common single nationality was Afghan.  The top five countries that asylum seekers came from were Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Are migrants crossing the channel on small boats seeking an ‘easy ride’ in the UK?

The vast majority of the people who make small boat crossings are refugees, fleeing conflict and persecution. They will apply for protection in the UK, also known as asylum.  Asylum is when an individual is given protection by another country because they cannot return home because of war, violence or persecution.  

What benefits are asylum seekers entitled to once they enter the UK?

Asylum seekers in the UK are not entitled to any state benefits and do not receive housing privileges. Asylum seekers are entitled to ‘Asylum Support’ which is a fixed amount of £49.18 for each member of their family, per week.

Extra payments are granted for pregnant women and children under 3 years old. The maternity grant for pregnant asylum seekers is a one-off payment of £300.  The Maternity Grant can only be claimed once but is available for each baby. Contrary to popular UK immigration myths, asylum seekers are not entitled to Council Housing or Housing Association housing. Asylum seekers are granted very basic housing and accommodation in the UK.

They may be put up in hostels, hotels or within adequate housing. Asylum seekers cannot choose where they live. Those who have been granted asylum are housed in the UK on a no choice basis in areas ‘used for dispersal’. These areas include Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester.

Are asylum seekers allowed to work?

Asylum seekers or those awaiting the outcome of an asylum claim cannot work as an employee or a worker, even for a voluntary organisation, unless they have been granted permission to work by the government. This makes it practically impossible for those seeking asylum to earn their own money and begin their new lives in the UK. It offers them very little independence from the state. Asylum seekers must be granted refugee status in order to gain permission to work in the UK.

How do UK asylum seeker numbers compare with the rest of Europe?

Asylum levels in the UK are considerably lower than in other comparable European countries such as France or Germany.

Since 2018, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people crossing the English channel in small boats. In 2018, a total of 299 people were recorded arriving in the UK via small boats, in 2021 the total rose significantly to 28,526. Of the 28,256 asylum seekers who arrived by boat in 2022, 25,000 were granted refugee status in the UK. A total of 29,437 people entered the UK in small boats in 2023. As of March 2024, 4,600 people have entered the UK in small boats since the start of the year.

Why are asylum seekers coming to the UK?

As of 17 March 2024, 39,796 people had arrived in Europe by sea since the start of the year. The recent rise in Channel crossings post 2015 mirrors a longer-term global increase in displaced people across the globe.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of forcibly displaced people has more than doubled since 2011 and stood at 89.3 million at the end of 2021. In the EU, the number of first-time asylum applicants rapidly increased during the 2015 refugee crisis and is still higher than it was in the period before 2014.

The UNHCR estimates that by the end of 2021 89.3 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced from their homes due to “persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order”. This number has more than doubled since 2011. A further rise to above 100 million is expected in 2024 given the invasion of Ukraine and other forced displacements.

By Mya Alghali

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