The UK Government must scrap visa requirements for refugees and halt carrier liability fines, to ensure those who do seek asylum in the UK can reach here safely.

First published: March 2022.

Under international refugee law, refugees cannot be penalised for their manner of entry, which is just one way in which the government’s proposals for the Nationality and Borders Bill would violate international law.

It isn’t so simple though.

You know all those stories you see about “small boat crossings”? The politicians and pundits who claim that anyone crossing the channel is an “economic migrant”? Yeah, now you see with the failure of the UK to support those fleeing the War in Ukraine why it was never true.

It doesn’t matter where someone is fleeing, the basic reasons for trying to reach the UK remain the same: language and family/friendship ties. Most refugees do remain in their regions of origin, not always by choice, but some don’t.

Let’s be honest, you have just fled across the border, the thing you are fleeing is still right there in the neighbouring country. Personally, I may be inclined to move a little further away to be honest, and this is what the minority of refugees do.

I say minority.

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To give you an idea – and yes, these figures are from 2021 – there were about 84 million displaced people in the world, those who had fled their home. Of these “only” 26.4 million people were refugees, they crossed an international border.

Refugee Statistics
UNHCR’s Refugee Statistics is a database containing information about forcibly displaced populations, spanning across almost 70 years of statistical activities. It covers displaced populations such as refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons.

Of these, only 4.4 million were asylum seekers.

You see, an asylum seeker is different from a refugee. A refugee is someone who has crossed an international border and meets certain criteria. It is a “declarative term” – basically states don’t get to say who is or is not a refugee.

An asylum seeker on the other hand is someone – drum roll please – who actively seeks asylum, something which can only be done in the territory of the state you are seeking it in, hence why people have to use “irregular methods of entry” if they don’t have visas when seeking it.

That is one of the reasons why 85% of refugees are hosted in developing countries – yeah sorry, the “West” takes bugger all in the grand scheme, the UK taking a tiny fraction of even that. It is pretty hard, and expensive, to get across borders without visas.

Why don’t people just get the visas though?

Well, when fleeing a warzone, for example, you might not have the luxury of sticking around to fill in forms. You might not be able to even pick up the documents you need to fill in the forms.

If you have seen the pictures of crowds at the Ukrainian border you also start to see why, and how easy, it is for documents to be lost or stolen on route. All of which makes it nigh on impossible to obtain a visa.

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Even if you have the paperwork, how many of us, particularly having fled a war, can wait around in a foreign country, not knowing anyone, scared and without anything, for weeks/months, to have a visa processed?

Carrier liability fines mean that planes, ferries, Eurostar, etc. cannot transport people without the correct visas. So we are back to why those fleeing – not just from Ukraine – may end up being forced into using small boats to cross the channel.

The UK needs to scrap the Borders Bill, that is beyond doubt at this moment. But even more importantly it must scrap visa requirements for refugees and halt carrier liability fines, to ensure those who do seek asylum in the UK can reach here safely.

PMP Magazine

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Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.


  • Text: This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 12 March 2022 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.
  • Cover: Adobe Stock/andrei310.

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