Responding to irregular migration: A diplomatic route Contents


1.We launched this inquiry in February 2019, with the goal of assessing the foreign policy aspects of the UK’s approach to irregular migration since arrivals to Europe peaked in 2014–2015. We have limited the scope of the inquiry to the Central Mediterranean route, which runs from Sub-Saharan Africa through North Africa to southern Europe. This has been one of the most important, and deadly, routes for irregular migration into Europe in recent years, despite numbers dropping since 2017.1 This report divides the topic into three parts: first, the UK’s work with European partners, in terms of sharing responsibility for arrivals, and coordinating search-and-rescue and border controls; second, the UK’s work with African partners, both through the EU, bilaterally and in partnership with others; and third, the role of the FCO in setting the course of Government policy on this issue.2

2.This inquiry has been shortened due to uncertainty around parliamentary business. As a result, we have in some areas identified broad conclusions and suggested areas for further investigation at this stage. We hope to return to this topic in greater detail in the future.

This report uses the following definitions, based on the International Organization for Migration (IOM):3

  • Asylum seeker - An individual who is seeking international protection, and whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it.
  • Irregular migration - Movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations, or international agreements governing the entry into or exit from the State of origin, transit or destination.
  • Migrant - An umbrella term, not defined under international law, referring to a person who moves away from their place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons.
  • Refugee - A person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality.

1 The Central Mediterranean Route, Frontex, accessed October 2019

2 We published 14 pieces of written evidence, and held three public oral evidence sessions. Our witnesses were: Professor Sir Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, University of Oxford; Sarah Elliott, Legal Officer, UN Refugee Agency UK (UNHCR UK); Shoshana Fine, Visiting Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations; Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, journalist and author; Dr Roderick Parkes, Senior Analyst, EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS); Dr Yves Pascouau, Associate Senior Researcher, Jacques Delors Institute and the University of Nantes; and Matteo Villa, Research Fellow, Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI). Within the FCO, we took evidence from Heather Wheeler MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State; Matthew Johnson, Head, Mediterranean Migration Unit; and Lewis Neal, Director, Economic Diplomacy. We have also been able to draw on inquiries held by other Committees, including the Home Affairs Committee, International Development Committee, Joint Committee on National Security Strategy, and the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee.
We are grateful to our witnesses and all those who submitted evidence to the inquiry.

3 Key Migration Terms, International Organization for Migration, accessed October 2019

Published: 4 November 2019