Responding to irregular migration: A diplomatic route Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The UK and Europe

1.Europe’s responses to the 2015 “refugee crisis” were often short-term and defensive, rather than strategic. Though arrivals in Europe have decreased sharply from their peak, a fresh outbreak of conflict, or environmental disaster, could cause large-scale irregular arrivals in Europe. It is crucial for the UK, and Europe as a whole, to plan its response to future spikes in arrivals, rather than considering the issue resolved. The UK is leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, and will need to closely coordinate irregular migration policy with European partners after Brexit. In light of this, we were concerned by the lack of detailed answers from the FCO in our oral evidence session. The Minister’s inability to identify a single change to UK cooperation with European partners on this issue following Brexit was particularly worrying, and points to a lack of focused attention to this issue. We recommend that the UK should move quickly to negotiate close future cooperation on this issue with the EU. This is likely to mean negotiating a replacement for the Dublin Regulation and future, ad hoc participation in Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions, and could involve taking part in future relocation schemes, on a voluntary basis. During the current delay to our exit from the EU, we call on the Government to urgently resume UK attendance at EU-level meetings where migration is discussed, and to seek to attend these meetings after Brexit, wherever it is possible and in our interests to do so. (Paragraph 7)

2.While the UK remained mostly insulated from large-scale arrivals to Europe in 2014–15, the human costs and political ramifications have been great. In the absence of robust and accessible legal routes for seeking asylum in the UK, those with a claim are left with little choice but to make dangerous journeys by land and sea. The UK has a strong economy and a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution, and should lead by example, creating more ambitious targets for resettlement. We recommend that the Government expands the legal pathways to apply for asylum from outside Europe and works with EU partners to encourage them to do the same. (Paragraph 8)

3.We are concerned by the evidence we received about the dire conditions for migrants in northern France, and by the reports of an increase in those taking dangerous routes to reach the UK, including by crossing the Channel in small boats. Focusing on increasing border security without improving conditions in the region may have the counterproductive effect of forcing migrants to make desperate journeys across the Channel. We recommend that, in addition to its work to increase security in northern France, the UK should work closely with French authorities to improve the conditions for migrants. It should ensure efficient processing of asylum claims by those with relatives in the UK, and make it a priority to maintain close bilateral cooperation with France after Brexit, including on these claims. (Paragraph 11)

4.We are deeply concerned by the lack of search-and-rescue capacity in the Mediterranean. Under no circumstances should migrants be left to die as a deterrent to stop others arriving. The Minister’s evidence did little to convince us that the FCO is seriously engaged with this problem. We recommend that the UK Government works with European partners to take the necessary steps to ensure additional search-and-rescue capability, and in its response to the Committee it should set out how it will assess and determine this capacity, including targeting a reduction in attempts and a lowering of the fatality rate. This should include working closely with the new Italian government and offering UK capacity to support search-and-rescue efforts. (Paragraph 14)

The UK and Africa

5.The EU’s migration deals with Libya have achieved the short-term political “win” of cutting migrant numbers, but at the cost of fuelling human rights abuses, strengthening armed groups, and undermining stability in the longer term. There is compelling evidence of large-scale arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence against migrants, and we are concerned by the evidence that UK funding could be contributing to these abuses. We recommend that the UK should put in place robust monitoring and safeguards to ensure that its funding to migration programmes in Libya is not contributing to abuses, as well as to strengthen protection for migrants in Libya, and should press its European partners to do the same. Ensuring close dialogue on migration with European partners after Brexit will help the UK to make this case. In its response to this report, the Government should set out its assessment of how far human rights measures within its assistance to the Libyan Coastguard have improved this force’s human rights performance, including actions taken, dates, and quantifiable measures. (Paragraph 21)

6.Outsourcing Europe’s migration work to fragile states carries the risk of counterproductive side effects. We support the principle of aiming to tackle the causes of displacement “upstream”, in countries of origin and transit, but are concerned that the EU’s migration work in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa risks exacerbating existing security problems, fuelling human rights abuses, and endorsing authoritarian regimes. Preventing local populations from crossing borders may help cut the numbers arriving in Europe in the short term, but in the long term it risks damaging economies and creating instability—which in itself can trigger displacement. Relying on partner governments to cut migration can prevent the UK pressing for other governance reforms, and there is evidence that it is used by partners as leverage to demand more assistance or other concessions. (Paragraph 27)

7.We were surprised at the lack of detail we were given when we questioned the FCO about the Government’s work with African partners. For example, the Minister did not appear to be aware of the existence of the Government’s “Africa Strategy”. The document itself is brief and lacking detail, as the Committee noted earlier this year, but the Minister’s lack of awareness of the Strategy does not fill us with confidence that the UK’s migration work with African partners is receiving substantial or considered input from the FCO. (Paragraph 28)

8.We recommend that the Government should put in place robust monitoring processes to ensure that it is supporting successful operations to target the root causes of irregular migration, and is not contributing to conflict or instability through its migration work in Sub-Saharan Africa. The FCO should take the lead on ensuring that UK engagement on irregular migration with source and transit countries is viewed in terms of the full range of the UK’s strategic interests, and does not place undue emphasis on reducing arrivals to the exclusion of other goals, such as promoting stability and respect for fundamental human rights, and reducing poverty. In its response to this report, the FCO should provide a detailed assessment to the Committee on how efforts on irregular migration interact with other priorities in its approach to Sub-Saharan Africa. (Paragraph 29)

9.In its response to this report, the Government should set out when it decided to suspend migration cooperation with Sudan, and what tests will have to be met before it is restarted. If the Government resumes this cooperation, it should be done with caution and in close consultation with civil society groups both in Sudan and the UK. (Paragraph 30)

10.We are concerned by evidence that climate change could cause greater levels of migration in the coming years. We recommend that the UK’s work on migration in the Sahel, and more broadly, should address the wider, interlinked factors driving irregular migration—including climate change, conflict, repressive governance and corruption—rather than focusing narrowly on reducing the numbers reaching Europe’s borders in the short term. We recommend that the FCO should place tackling climate change as a central part of its policy on irregular migration. (Paragraph 32)

The role of the FCO

11.It is an error to focus on preventing migration to the exclusion of other goals, such as preventing conflict and promoting stability and respect for fundamental human rights in source and transit regions. The UK’s interests around irregular migration are broader than this, and include peace, stability and human rights in source and transit countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as the impact on our neighbours in Europe. The FCO should ensure that the UK’s broader strategic interests are fully taken into account in the formulation of migration policy—not just the domestic imperative to limit migration. As a start, this means ensuring that these factors play a significant role in the Illegal Migration Strategy, alongside that of limiting arrivals. Where key documents cannot be made public due to security concerns, such as this Strategy, it should be prepared to share these in confidence with the Committee to enable detailed scrutiny. (Paragraph 34)

12.Language matters, especially when discussing a highly sensitive issue such as migration. We recommend that the Government should reassess its use of the term “illegal migration” in its strategy documents, and its categorisation of this issue primarily as a security threat rather than a question of stability. The human cost born by migrants should be front and centre of UK policy, and accompanied by the recognition that large-scale irregular migration can drain talent from countries that rely on their human capital to bring about changes at home. In its response to this report, the FCO should set out its reasons for the change in language used in its departmental plan, and its implications for policy. As a start, it should consider changing references from “illegal” to “irregular” migration throughout its policy documents. (Paragraph 37)

Published: 4 November 2019