Britain may be forced to take in hundreds of migrants currently encamped at Calais, thanks to a little-known amendment to European Union (EU) law. Changes to the Dublin Regulation, which determines the legality of asylum claims, mean that migrants can now claim asylum in countries in which their relatives reside, even if they are not in that country themselves. But migration campaigners have warned that the rules will only encourage migrants to head for Calais.
As many as 6,000 migrants are currently living in makeshift encampment known as The Jungle in Calais, all waiting for an opportunity to stow away on board a lorry or high speed train, and so achieve their objective of a new life in the UK.
So far the government has resisted calls to open Britain’s borders and usher in the gathering crowd, preferring to take 20,000 Syrians directly from refugee camps in the Middle East instead. But an amendment to EU law, introduced in January last year, may force the government’s hand in many cases, The Times has reported.
Alterations to the Dublin Regulation, which sets the rules on how the EU manages asylum claims, place greater emphasis on family unity. As a result, migrants may be able to claim asylum in the UK if they have a close relative already resident in the country, even if they are not present in the UK themselves.
Previously, migrants were supposed to register for asylum in the first EU member state they reached, although in practice that rule was rarely adhered to.
British lawyers have now travelled to Calais to recruit test cases, and claim to have found hundreds of candidates already. 11 lawyers from the Islington Law Centre and Bhatt Murphy solicitors in London have identified more than 130 Syrians, 60 Eritreans, 10 Kuwaitis, 15 Iraqi Kurds and 10 Afghans who they believe have legitimate claims.
On Wednesday, they submitted the first of the test cases to the Home Office. Sonal Ghelani, one of the lawyers working on the cases, said: “These are children and adults with nuclear family in the UK who have a right to be reunited with their loved ones.
“Dublin III makes explicit provision for this but we haven’t found evidence that people know about their rights or that the formal mechanisms to access them are working.”
The drive has received support from Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who has called on the British and French governments to work together with the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, on a coordinated effort to assess those at Calais.
Following a visit to the Jungle last week, she said: “Britain needs to take responsibility. It makes no sense to only take refugees from camps near Syria and to ignore people on our doorstep who have families in Britain that can support them.”
However, Alp Mehmet, of Migration Watch UK, raised concerns over the message that allowing people to claim asylum from Calais would send. He said: “These are not the only asylum seekers who have family in the UK and it would send out all the wrong messages to those who will be attracted by the thought that if they get themselves to Calais we will accept them.”
A spokesman for the Home Office has said the UK will consider any request made under Dublin regulations if passed on by the French authorities. However, he would not reveal the number of “take charge” notices the Home Office had received.