Migration Crisis Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

UK exit from the EU

1.Since we concluded our evidence for this inquiry and began to consider our findings, there has of course been a seismic change in the UK’s relationship with the EU, following the EU Referendum on 23 June and the decision to leave the EU. However, EU policy on migration and refugees will remain crucial to the UK and the future arrangements for dealing with migration will form a central part in the negotiations for the UK’s exit from the EU. In the meantime, the current arrangements will continue to operate for the two years or more that that negotiation process is likely to take. This report therefore sets out our assessment of the challenges which Europe and the UK face in dealing with the migration crisis, and our recommendations for how the UK unilaterally, and Europe collectively, should respond. We will consider the major implications of EU exit for justice and home affairs issues, including immigration and asylum, in more detail in forthcoming inquiries. (Paragraph 12)

Juxtaposed border controls

2.Since the EU Referendum, there have been reports of some politicians in France calling for the trilateral Le Touquet agreement on juxtaposed borders to end, and for the UK border to be moved back from Calais and other Channel ports to the Kent coast. Such comments are unproductive and are likely to encourage more migrants to travel to Calais. There are clear advantages to the UK from a facility that allows UK authorities to identify and carry out security checks on travellers, and examine passenger and freight vehicles, on the continental side of the Channel. We believe that the arrangements for juxtaposed borders and the co-operation which exists between police and border agencies on both sides of the Channel must continue. This is not just in the interests of the UK, but also France. Those involved in terrorism and criminal gangs do not respect borders and both countries need to be vigilant in confronting these ever-present threats. Maintaining the Le Touquet agreement should be acknowledged as a priority for the UK Government. (Paragraph 17)

Steps to tackle illegal migrants crossing the Channel

3.The situation in Calais and elsewhere on the French side of the Channel coast is a manifestation of the wider problem across Europe. The number of migrants in Calais is relatively small compared to the flows entering Europe and being managed by other countries. However, there is a potential threat to UK security, and the ongoing challenge to migration controls which this aspect of illegal migration presents remains of serious concern to us. The Home Office must continue to adapt its response to cross-Channel illegal migration to reflect changes in methods and routes used by migrant smugglers. It must also work actively with EU countries and agencies to tackle the root causes of people gathering in the Calais area with the aim of crossing to the UK. (Paragraph 26)

Borders and coastal security

4.When the Director General of Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, gave evidence to us in December 2015, he had not been informed what his budget for 2016–17 would be. When we asked the then Second Permanent Secretary about this in oral evidence in April 2016, after the current financial year had begun, he was unable to tell us whether Sir Charles had yet been told what his budget was. The then Home Secretary subsequently confirmed in writing that Sir Charles had been informed about his budget. This initial confusion was unacceptable—when select committees request information, it should be provided in a timely way. (Paragraph 31)

5.Border Force has been given a key role in implementing strengthened coastal security measures but it clear that it is experiencing problems in gaining access to a sufficient number of patrol boats: only four of the new vessels are currently deployed and the remaining four will not be available for more than a year. Maritime patrols are an essential element of border security for an island nation. Border Force needs to be given all the necessary equipment, including vessels, to enable it to carry out its responsibilities effectively. The number of Border Force vessels in operation appears to be worryingly low. Royal Navy vessels should be made available to Border Force to make up for shortfalls, where necessary. (Paragraph 32)

6.In relation to our work on counter-terrorism, the then Minister for Security, John Hayes MP, acknowledged that tightening security at larger ports and airports risks displacing “malevolent attention” to smaller points of entry. This is equally true in relation to displacement of illegal migration and small ports are now being used by criminal gangs to move people between the Continent and the UK. Moreover, whilst the Government can be commended for its efforts to secure Calais, it has not heeded warnings, including from this Committee, that migration flows would be displaced to Belgium and the Netherlands, and most recently to Germany. Security must be tightened at small ports and airports which are being used as entry points from these new departure points on the continental coast as a matter of urgency. The Government should inform us what progress has been made on the “urgent work” that it says it is carrying out to protect small ports and airports, in addition to the increase in Border Force vessels, which is itself delayed. (Paragraph 33)

Humanitarian conditions in Calais camps

7.The initial prompt for our inquiry was the issue of border security in relation to Calais and Dunkirk that arose in summer 2015. However, our concerns range much more widely that that. That there are unofficial migrant camps at the border of two of Europe’s wealthiest nations is a matter of serious regret and concern. A wide range of the evidence submitted to us by experts and volunteers confirms that the conditions in the camps are absolutely atrocious and are directly causing suffering and ill health for many residents. In a letter to this Committee in July 2015, the then Immigration Minister confirmed that the information he had from France was that the most common five nationalities of migrants at Calais were Syrian, Eritrean, Sudanese, Iranian and Iraqi. Written submissions highlighted the number of camp residents, including children, who have family members in the UK or other ties to this country. It is clear that there are many people in these camps entitled to humanitarian protection or refugee status, including some who should have their claims processed in the UK. (Paragraph 34)

8.We require much more information on the work the French and UK governments are undertaking to improve conditions at the camps, and to ensure all who are entitled to humanitarian protection or refugee status obtain it—and are able to do so swiftly. The Government should set out what fraction of the sums invested in Calais have been used in this way, as opposed to strengthening border security. Ultimately, we are yet to see any evidence of a strategy designed to deliver a long-term solution to the presence of these camps, and both governments must work together urgently to deliver one. (Paragraph 35)

Managing migration flows

9.Migration into Europe has been a long-standing challenge for EU countries, including the UK. However, the situation has now become a crisis, in large part because of the Syrian war, and the continuing instability in Libya and other parts of north Africa. Although current migration flows are a continuation of patterns that have ebbed and changed over many years, the current numbers of people seeking to move into Europe are unprecedented in modern times. The Archbishop of Canterbury has described the scale of the crisis as “colossal”. Syrian refugees present the most acute and numerous challenge, but there are other countries from which migrants continue to flow in large numbers. (Paragraph 46)

10.The EU and its Member States failed to anticipate the scale of migrant flows, and did not have the structures and mechanisms in place to cope. As a result, the EU has been too slow to respond in a coordinated way. The EU’s March 2016 agreement with Turkey on return of migrants is arguably a first step towards a meaningful response but it has come far too late and is itself highly controversial for a number of reasons. Further action is urgently required to ensure that vulnerable people seeking refuge do not suffer further exploitation by criminals, accompanied by fear, harm and the current high risk of death. (Paragraph 47)

Support to source countries

11.We strongly endorse a coordinated approach to the provision of support to those countries around Syria, which are doing so much to fulfil their moral obligation to take in large numbers of refugees, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. In the absence of realistic prospects of the impacts of the conflict coming to an end in the near future, the UK’s contribution to humanitarian relief is warmly welcomed, and maintaining it is essential. However, providing such aid does not absolve the UK from also providing more direct support for the thousands of Syrian refugees who have already arrived in Europe, particularly those whom the UK Government, in different circumstances, would consider to be vulnerable and therefore deserving refuge. (Paragraph 50)

Resettlement of Syrian refugees

12.The UK Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has started well, and there are signs that the co-operation necessary between central Government, local authorities, and the various agencies involved is working efficiently. We reiterate our support for the Government’s commitment to receive 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020 and our appreciation of the efforts of all those who worked to achieve the target of 1,000 arriving by Christmas 2015, and we commend the then Minister for Syrian Refugees for achieving this. (Paragraph 57)

13.However, it is clear from the recently published statistics that more local authorities need to contribute to providing asylum accommodation, including for Syrian refugees. There is now a two-tier system among local authorities, with some providing support to Syrian refugees and others not doing so. A similar two-tier system applies in the level of support local authorities provide for other asylum-seekers. The Government needs to be much more proactive in encouraging a fair distribution of asylum seekers throughout the country and Ministers should take the lead on this, by encouraging their own local authorities to take their fair share of refugees. (Paragraph 58)

14.Those who come to the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme are only given humanitarian protection for five years. We are concerned that the Government appears to be moving towards a system of limited time periods for providing refuge, which may not wholly meet its obligations under the 1951 UN Convention on the status of refugees. The situation in Syria should be reviewed comprehensively once the five-year point is approaching for any refugee. (Paragraph 59)

Safe and legal routes into Europe

15.The Government has said that it will not take part in the current EU schemes to relocate or resettle refugees. This is because it does not wish to participate in any initiative that might act as a magnet for those seeking refuge and thereby encourage them to risk taking dangerous routes to try to reach the UK. We accept this approach. In these circumstances, we would ask the Government to explain whether it is considering any expansion of safe and legal routes, such as humanitarian visas, for those from conflict regions seeking protection, as advocated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a wide range of expert NGOs and others. The Government should also make clear how its response to the migrant crisis is providing protection for refugees other than Syrians in the UK, without provision in place for them to travel to the UK to apply for asylum. (Paragraph 65)

16.The Chair of Migration Watch, Lord Green of Deddington, accepted in evidence to us that the UK is not yet “full” in relation to migration. The Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that the UK was not full and believed that, with “careful preparation and good policy”, including the necessary resources being provided to local communities, the UK had the capacity to fulfil its moral obligation to accept more refugees fleeing war zones and catastrophes, as well as asylum-seekers. We share this view. (Paragraph 67)

Control of EU external borders

17.Control of the EU’s external borders is critical to an effective approach to the migration crisis, which is resulting in such high migratory flows. Large numbers of unregistered migrants moving into the Schengen area exacerbates existing security threats and risks undermining migration controls in other countries, including the UK. Members of the Schengen area need to agree whether control of external borders is the responsibility of the frontline state or is a collective EU responsibility to which they all contribute. We have noted that some Member States have implemented their own passport controls within the Schengen area, in breach of the Schengen principles and no doubt due to a lack of faith in the integrity of the external Schengen border. (Paragraph 77)

18.We welcome the proposals put forward by the European Commission to reform Frontex, the agency charged with protecting the EU’s external borders. We believe these reforms would have a positive impact in empowering the new European Border and Coast Guard Agency to take effective action when individual Member States are unable or unwilling to do so. This would not affect the UK’s role directly, even while it remains in the EU, as it is not a full member of Schengen. However, the UK does provide staff and equipment to work with Frontex and its support for the EU’s Rapid Intervention Border Teams (RABIT) has always been welcomed. The Government should make clear how it intends to engage with the new EU border agency and how its engagement will differ from its current relationship with Frontex once the UK leaves the EU. We also recommend that the UK remain a key player in Europol from outside the EU, as the US is now. (Paragraph 78)

Tackling migrant smuggling across sea borders

19.The Government has supported both Frontex search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean and NATO operations aimed at disrupting migrant smuggling in the Aegean by deploying Royal Navy, Border Force and other vessels. We welcome these deployments although, given the low number of Border Force vessels in operation, it is important that this does not detract from their crucial role in policing the Channel. It is not acceptable for EU Member States to leave these essential tasks to the countries most affected, including Italy, Greece and Turkey. All EU national governments should share the burden and contribute to disrupting the activities and destroying the boats and equipment of criminal elements who are the source of much of the migrant crisis, and who are the only party in this crisis to have gained from the suffering of vulnerable people. (Paragraph 85)

20.Although the deployments to date have saved lives, it is clear that they are not yet achieving their primary task of deterring migrant flows and disrupting smuggling networks. The response has been too slow and more robust and urgent collective action by EU countries is needed, with a clear mandate to deal with high-level criminality. Libya has now become the main departure point for illegal migration across the Mediterranean and the focus should be on preventing boats leaving north Africa in the first place. For the action to be limited to rescuing people from the sea and collecting drowned bodies, as it seems to be at present, is wholly unacceptable. (Paragraph 86)

21.As we enter high summer, the then Prime Minister’s announcement in May that a Royal Navy vessel was being sent to address migrant flows from Libya appears to have stalled. Moreover, the approach taken by the then Foreign Secretary in respect of Libya, where a reported 500,000 people are waiting to cross the Mediterranean illegally, is complacent. Given the UK’s involvement in the Libyan civil war and in the rebuilding and reconciliation efforts which have followed, the EU should be able to offer Libya a deal, with substantial funding provided to tackle people smuggling at the points of departure, and access to Libyan territorial waters for European country vessels agreed in return. (Paragraph 87)

Dublin regulations

22.Application of the provisions of the Dublin Convention has a direct impact on UK migration controls because many of the migrants and refugees who arrive illegally in Calais with the aim of making an asylum claim in the UK will have passed through another EU state. The existing Dublin regulations were not designed for a crisis such as the present one, and the European Commission has proposed to improve them with a revised scheme designed to ensure that responsibility for processing asylum claims does not rest disproportionately with frontline states but instead, when required, is shared by EU members. The UK indicated that it would oppose any such changes to the Dublin regulations, even putting aside the question of its exit from the EU. Regardless of whether these changes proceed, proper systems for registering and tracking migrants need to be in place as part of the Dublin arrangements and an effective fingerprinting system is crucial for this. However, it is unfair for EU countries that are distant from the current points of arrival in the EU to criticise the main arrival countries for not implementing fingerprinting requirements effectively, given the vast numbers that they have been left to cope with, with inadequate support. (Paragraph 94)

EU hotspot initiative

23.If it can be made to work effectively, the EU’s hotspot initiative will go some way to recognising that individual frontline countries cannot be left to bear the brunt of vast migration flows. For the hotspots to be a success, commitment and practical support is required from all EU members, and from the UK, for staff, equipment and other necessary resources. Greece and Italy cannot be blamed if the hotspots remain under-staffed and under-resourced. We welcome the practical support provided by the UK to date. It should be noted that the UK has opted out of the EU scheme for dealing with the migration crisis and that its unilateral commitments are currently limited mainly to the 20,000 Syrians refugees it has agreed to accept by 2020. (Paragraph 104)

EU border security and terrorist attacks

24.In the context of the current intense security threats to EU countries, it is clearly in the interest of all countries for there to be effective security checks at EU external borders. Although the measures taken by the UK since the Paris attacks are welcome, no country can expect to be able to protect its borders alone against those who wish to do harm. The UK needs its European neighbours, and the countries on the EU external borders, to take equally rigorous steps. Terrorists do not see national borders as a barrier to their barbarism and people with illegal or lethal intent will continue to try to find ways through any security system. Cooperation and continued vigilance are necessary. (Paragraph 114)

25.The Greek Ambassador to the UK told us that one of the Paris terrorists crossed from Turkey to Greece and was then able to travel on within the EU, and that another had a Syrian passport. The additional checks against security databases which the European Commission has proposed are welcome. These should be enforced, in addition to passport checks, for both EU and non-EU nationals. Equipment should be available at all EU external borders for the fingerprinting of migrants on arrival and then for background-checking to be carried out before they cross the border. Any increased delays at border crossings which this may cause may just have to be accepted, in the face of the continued threat of terrorists managing to evade EU border checks, as two of the Paris attackers appear to have done. (Paragraph 115)

The EU Agreement with Turkey

26.The EU-Turkey agreement reached in March 2016 has resulted in a 90% decrease in the numbers of migrants arriving in Greece. However, concerns about the humanitarian, human rights, logistical and legal implications should not be ignored and the challenge for both Greece and Turkey in processing and moving the large numbers of people who have already reached Greece remains considerable. It is only just and fair that the EU countries which supported the agreement with Turkey should assist by providing staff, financial support and equipment. The UK Government has already provided some support to Greece in the form of personnel and equipment. It should set out the ongoing contribution it plans to make, both through EU agencies while it remains a member of the EU, and bilaterally. Turkey got a good deal from the agreement with the EU and it would receive even greater credit from EU states if it did more to stop migrants crossing to Greece in the first place. (Paragraph 123)

27.It was inevitable that the agreement to deport migrants back to Turkey from Greece would lead migrant smugglers to find other routes in the region which avoid Greece, and this has proved to be the case. There were hundreds of deaths of migrants making the crossing from North Africa to Italy during April and May and more deaths are likely during the high summer months. The EU needs to take immediate, collective and comprehensive steps to tackle the new problems created by the displacement of migrants to other routes avoiding Turkey and Greece, which were entirely foreseeable. Ultimately all action to close off irregular routes will be no more than partially successful, and sometimes counter-productive, particularly in the absence of sufficient safe and legal routes. We give some consideration to this issue in the next chapter in relation to protecting vulnerable groups, but the recommendations there are also more widely applicable. (Paragraph 124)

Family reunion and unaccompanied child migrants

28.We accept the Government’s concern that allowing unaccompanied children to join family members already in the UK might create a “pull factor”, resulting in more vulnerable young people making dangerous journeys to try to reach the UK. We appreciate that these are sensitive and complex matters and that proper account needs to be taken of the legal and safeguarding requirements in the countries where unaccompanied children are currently located. We also acknowledge that some progress is being made on this. However, we agree with the Bishop of Durham that the 157 unaccompanied children already in Calais who have family members in the UK “should already have arrived” in the UK. The Government should, as a one-off action, accept all of these children into the UK now. (Paragraph 131)

29.Large numbers of women and child migrants are making dangerous illegal journeys across the Mediterranean, in the hope of being reunited with family members in the EU. We welcome the UK Government’s recent announcement of schemes to resettle unaccompanied children, both from the Middle East and North Africa, and some who have already reached Europe. However, it is important that the local authorities who are required to take responsibility for unaccompanied refugee children are properly funded and supported to take on this additional burden, particularly given the high concentration of arrivals in a very small number of locations, particularly in Kent and the Heathrow airport area. The Government should include steps to ensure the fair distribution of unaccompanied children across local authorities as part of the action we have called for in relation to dispersal of asylum-seekers. (Paragraph 134)

30.Family reunion of migrants has been shown to have benefits in terms of integration and support networks, in addition to the human rights requirements of allowing families to be together, and there is clear scope for further measures to facilitate women and children joining husbands, fathers and other male relatives who have reached the UK. We recommend that the UK Government increase its use of family reunion visas for refugee asylum cases, to make it easier for applications to be made in countries of origin and to help avoid women and children feeling obliged to attempt high-risk and illegal travel to Europe in order to be reunited with male relatives. We also recommend that the UK broaden the scope of family reunion rules, and work with expert NGOs to make it easier (including through provision of legal aid) and speedier for applications for family reunion visas to be made, particularly in countries of origin or their vicinity. (Paragraph 135)

Missing child migrants

31.Europol estimates that there are 85,000 unaccompanied minors amongst the migrant population in the EU. We were astonished to hear reports that large numbers of these children go missing from reception centres shortly after arrival and that they then face abuse, sexual assault and discrimination. At least 10,000 minors are estimated to have gone missing since arriving in Europe. EU countries must do more to protect these highly vulnerable young people. The Government has announced a £10 million Refugee Children Fund for vulnerable children in the EU. This should be used, and if necessary augmented, to ensure that effective support and protection are provided, and that this extremely serious problem is properly addressed. (Paragraph 140)

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28 July 2016