Thursday

6th Oct 2022

Analysis

Brexit would prevent UK from returning asylum seekers

  • An estimated 3,500 to 4,000 migrants, who want to go to the UK, are living in squalid camps in Calais (Photo: Jey OH photographie)

Much has been said about trade and migration should the UK leave the EU following Thursday's (23 June) referendum.

Justice minister and Leave campaigner Michael Gove said that "EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to our borders".

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But should it go, Britain may inadvertently become a brighter beacon for those hoping for international protection who are already near the UK borders.

EU asylum law gives governments the right to return people to the EU state they first entered. The UK is a staunch defender of the agreement, also known as the Dublin regulation, because they get to send people packing.

A Thursday vote to reject the EU would annul the UK's participation and also deny the UK access to Eurodac, an asylum-seeker fingerprint database.

It means EU states would not need to accept the return of any asylum seeker who somehow made it to the UK.

"It seems obvious that we would no longer be a part of the Dublin system and therefore we have to rely on some kind of bilateral arrangement or informal arrangement to send people to EU countries," Steve Peers, a professor of EU and human rights law at the University of Essex, told this website.

A silver lining for asylum seekers

For the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Calais and Dunkirk, a Brexit may just provide an extra incentive to cross the Channel.

Once they set foot on UK soil, they would remain put unless Britain negotiated new accords with the EU, member states, or countries from where the migrants have citizenship.

The first two scenarios appear unlikely given the political backlash that will follow a Brexit.

EU leaders would not make it easy for the UK over fears a simple split may trigger similar ideas of a referendum elsewhere in Europe.

The third option is contingent on the Refugee Convention and the European Convention of Human Rights.

In other words, the UK cannot send an asylum seeker back to a country where they face persecution and war.

Meanwhile, member states won't agree to returns from the UK.

Italy, a so-called frontline member state, will have to contend with the thousands projected to arrive from North Africa over the next few months.

Greece back in Dublin

Greece, for its part, is a Dublin outcast following a European Court of Human Rights ruling that banned returns to the country.

The EU commission wants Greece in the Dublin fold before the end of year.

The UK transferred only 510 people to other countries in the first nine months in 2015. The main destinations were Italy, then Ireland, and then Belgium.

Should Greece once again join Dublin, returns are likely to increase after some 850,000 landed on the islands last year. But it applies only for EU states and Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland are in Dublin and the passport-free Schengen zone. The EU calls them Schengen associated states.

The four must accept any Dublin reforms without question. If they don't, they'll be booted from the pact unless a special committee of EU countries experts decide otherwise.

"We haven't yet seen a case of a non-EU, non-Schengen state, trying to get into Dublin," said Minos Mouzourakis, a policy expert at the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

Should the UK somehow negotiate its way back into Dublin, then it would not have any say on its future reforms either.

The UK, as an EU member state, had opted out of the broader plan to relocate some 160,000 people arriving in Greece and Italy.

Relocations

But the EU may require the UK, as part of a new Dublin deal, to accept the relocation terms.

While the UK opted out of relocation, it has committed to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees from outside the EU.

As of mid-June, it resettled around 1,800. Statistics from the Home Office in late May showed most of them ended up in Scotland. Only 33 went to London.

Brexit: EU prepares for the morning after

EU institutions have prepared a Brexit crisis agenda for the first hours and day after the vote in order to avoid a "messy" divorce if the UK opts to leave.

Sarkozy campaign targets Calais migrants

People seeking international protection in the so-called Jungle in Calais in northern France should be moved to the UK, said French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy.

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