“In many ways Folkestonians have more to fear from those migrating in from London than those arriving, desperate, on inflatable dinghies from overseas,” according to James Harkin (pictured), director of The Centre for Investigative Journalism, based at Goldsmith University. He has a valid point “as average rents in Folkestone went up by as much as 27% in the last year, the second highest rise in the country”,
This is due to well-heeled Londoners migrating to the town due to ‘cultural re-generation’ which is driving prices up and locals out.
When our public face was reporting on the issue of asylum seekers arriving by train from Frethun (France) in May 2002, rents did not rise by 27%, as Folkestone was in the economic doldrums. Now with the economy tanking due to a cost of living crisis, demonizing asylum seekers will no doubt get easier.
For anyone who studied Sociology at ‘O’ Level, ‘A’ Level or for a degree, this latest moral panic regarding asylum seekers arriving by dinghy is another exaggerated outburst of public concern.
All one needs for a moral panic is two ingredients.
1 – A folk devil – the subject of the moral panic – the group who the media is focussing on, the group who is being targeted for exaggerated reporting, in this case those arriving by dinghies on Kent beaches.
2 – Deviancy Amplification – it is where a group becomes more deviant as a result of media exaggeration of their deviance. The Home Office always plays on fears of those arriving, having criminal records, being economic migrants and having violent pasts (for example) to paint everyone with the same brush.
It was fear of migrants, principally, that led the British to vote for Brexit. A YouGov poll in the days before Brexit found that 56% of Britons named “immigration and asylum” as the biggest issue facing the country. Tabloids with headlines such as “Migrants Rob Young Britons of Jobs” and “Britain’s 40% Surge in Ethnic Numbers” stoked fear of outsiders, day after day. From 2010 to 2016, the Daily Express ran 179 front-page anti-immigration stories and the Daily Mail 122 similar front-pages. These were all examples of a moral panic generated by a right wing press.
But what happens to those who arrive and claim asylum – here’s a rough guide. It can take months or years to get a decision from the Home Office on whether one can remain, or one will be deported. The figures for asylum seekers show more arrive than are deported.
In 2020, a total of 8,417 people crossed the Channel in small boats. Figures compiled by the BBC show at least 28,431 migrants made the journey in 2021, despite huge UK investment in France to prevent crossings.
We hear so much of this, on the radio, TV and in the papers. But we hear little of those who are deported by the Government.
At the end of 2020 there was concerted use of charter flights to return asylum seekers who had arrived in the UK by dinghy. After the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December of that year, the UK fell out of its legal agreements with the European Union, including the Dublin Regulation.
In January 2021, the UK government introduced new rules through which they can decide that an asylum claim is “inadmissible”, meaning it won’t be considered in the UK. These rules replace the Dublin Regulation, which no longer operate in the UK due to Brexit.
If the Home Office think that an asylum seeker has travelled through a “safe country” on their way to the UK, they can decide to investigate whether their claim should be treated as inadmissible. While their claim is being considered under these rules, their asylum claim will not move forward in the UK.
If an asylum claim is refused by the Home Office, and the individual has appealed that refusal at court (the First-tier Tribunal) and lost, the Home Office will usually consider you to be “appeal rights exhausted”. This phrase suggests they have no further appeal rights, but this is not always the case. An asylum seeker may be able to appeal to the Upper Tribunal. If an asylum seeker manages to appeal to the Upper Tribunal but are unsuccessful, they will then be considered “appeal rights exhausted”.
Each of these legal steps are important in the legal process. If the Home Office say an asylum seeker is “appeal rights exhausted”, their asylum support will be stopped and they can be held in detention, prior to the next step which is removal from the UK.
In the year ending June 2021, the number of asylum seeker removals decreased to 2,910. One thousand three hundred and five people departed on on sixty five, multi-leg charter flights, at a cost of £11,744,522. While removals from the UK have dropped overall due to the pandemic, the use of charter removal flights increased more than threefold during this period, representing 45% of total deportations.
More than half (722) of all the people removed by charter flight last year were sent to EU states, with Romania, Poland and Lithuania being the most frequent destinations. Brexit crippled the Home Office’s ability to deport asylum seekers, but it did lay the legal foundation for the mass deportation of EU citizens in 2021. The Parole Board’s guidance before Brexit stated that European nationals could be expelled after a year’s prison sentence ‘although the threshold for this is higher’ than for non-Europeans; a distinction that no longer applies.
Having failed to negotiate a replacement agreement, in 2021 the Home Office was left without a legal way to deport most asylum seekers to EU. Instead, the emphasis of the charter flight programme shifted largely to deporting so-called Foreign National Offenders (FNOs).
Who are ‘FNOs’?
Home Office communications always play up deportees’ criminal records and emphasise the people on the flights with violent pasts to paint everyone with the same brush. However, speaking with detainee support groups who actually meet these people gives another picture.
Most deportees have committed relatively minor offences which are often connected to trying to survive life in the UK without documents or access to social services. Most asylum seekers subsist below the poverty line while awaiting a decision. Their crimes include selling drugs, sleeping rough, working without legal permission, or driving without insurance or a valid licence. If sentenced to twelve months or more, foreign nationals can be automatically deported at the end of their term. The fact that many have spent most – and in some cases all – of their adult lives in the UK, and have already been sentenced by the criminal justice system, does not stop the Home Office tacking on deportation as an added punishment in order to appear ‘tough’ on crime and immigration.
Beyond the regular Albania and EU flights, deportation planes also flew to Ghana & Nigeria (1x) Jamaica (2x), Vietnam (2x), and Zimbabwe (2x), carrying a total of 86 people. These flights, especially those to Jamaica, were hotly contested by lawyers and campaigners, and mostly left with just a fraction of their intended capacity.
For those who fear asylum seekers, deportation is the area they should concentrate on as the Govt fails to remove many of those who are appeal rights exhausted. And for those accepting of asylum seekers all they need do is continue to highlight compassion and love, as asylum seekers are not the threat some believe.
Bringing in the Armed Forces will not stop dinghies laden with human cargo landing on Kent beaches, regardless of what many might think. It may reduce the numbers, but as sure as night follows day, another way will be found.
Those who’ve successfully navigated one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and claimed asylum, will remain here for quite some time before they are appeal rights exhausted. Meanwhile, rents and house prices will continue to rise driving out locals all for the sake of ‘cultural re-generation‘ to accomodate well-heeled London migrants. This will continue to create a town of two halves and force locals to become migrants themselves
The Shepway Vox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime