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While most people across Europe were full of the Christmas spirit and celebrating with their loved ones on Christmas Day, it was business as usual for desperate migrants attempting to cross the English Channel.

The Independent reports how almost 70 people were intercepted while attempting to cross the English Channel on Christmas Day when Border Force workers took a group of 67 people to Dover, in Kent.

The France-England migrant crossing issue remains one of the key global immigration issues of the moment and one that remains on the radar here at Optimus Law, the UK’s leading, specialist immigration lawyers. The topic continues to attract substantial analysis in the news, especially as the relationship between the UK and French governments – arguably delicate at the best of times – is being placed under ever-more intense pressure as the weeks and months continue.

While much has been written in the news outlets in recent months about the political fallout resulting from the ongoing issue, what happens to the immigrants when they arrive on UK soil is still shrouded in a degree of mystery. Therefore, let’s take this opportunity to explain what happens from a judicial and procedural point of view.

How does the asylum application process work after refugees cross the Channel?

When someone has made the journey to the UK, they can make their application for asylum at the port of Dover. If not, they must make their asylum application at the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon, south London.

In very exceptional circumstances, such as someone being unable to travel to Croydon, including unaccompanied children, applications can be made at Home Office Local Enforcement Offices. However, most applications are made via the Asylum Intake Unit.

Asylum applicants must attend a screening interview, soon after making the application. This interview collects basic information such as identity, country of origin, when and how the person arrived in the UK, and what documents they have, such as a passport or other identity papers.

Each application is assigned to a casework team and a second, more detailed interview takes place. This might be in person or over video link. The basic information from the first interview is checked to ensure a consistent account is given.

It is at this interview that the asylum seeker has to provide the evidence to back up his/her asylum claim and show that they are in need of protection and cannot safely be returned to their country of origin.

Detention

Some asylum seekers are detained at immigration detention centres at the point when they make their application for asylum.

In an interview with i news Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action which campaigns for detention reform, says that while the initial detention might be for a short time, many refugees are re-detained at some point during their application process.

“What is happening increasingly at the moment is that people are being detained when they’re picked up having crossed the Channel, then at some point they might be released and then they’ll normally be re-detained at some point during the process. The time of detention can vary and one of the things that is problematic is that in the UK, there is no detention time limit or end date after which the government can’t detain you any longer.”

Accommodation and living costs

Asylum seekers are sent somewhere in England known as a dispersal area, including Manchester, Liverpool, Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to claim mainstream welfare benefits. They are not allowed to work, unless their application is still undetermined after a year, in which case they can apply for permission to work, but this is granted to very few people.

Campaigners want the Government to lift the ban on asylum seekers working. The level of cash support for asylum seekers is currently £39.63 per person.

Asylum seekers are usually provided with basic self-catering accommodation. They may initially be put up in a hostel before being sent to “dispersed accommodation” somewhere in the UK which may be shared accommodation with other asylum seekers.

However, refugee and asylum organisations say much of the accommodation is substandard and not “fit for humans to live in.”

Minnie Rahman, interim chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: “People in our asylum system are made to live on less than £40 a week, placed in squalid housing and made to wait months and years before they’re given the opportunity to settle, work and get on with their lives.

“We’ve also seen hundreds of asylum seekers’ lives put at risk in dangerously cramped army barracks where Covid outbreaks were inevitable.”

The decision

The caseworker decides whether the applicant qualifies for recognition as a refugee under the terms of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

According to the Convention a person who has reason to fear persecution in their country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion and who cannot be kept safe by that country, should be recognised as a refugee.

Applicants who are granted refugee status by UKVI are given leave to remain in the UK for five years. They are free to work and are eligible for mainstream benefits.

If they have a spouse and children outside the UK, they can apply to join the refugee in the UK. After five years, they can apply for indefinite leave to remain, which will normally be granted. The exceptions are usually people who have had serious criminal convictions. Some people who are not granted refugee status are given permission to remain.

A very small number are granted humanitarian protection, which means that UKVI does not believe their case justifies refugee status but do accept that the person cannot be safely returned to their own country.

Others are granted discretionary leave to remain for a time limited period, after which they may be able to apply to extend their leave.

Appeals against refusal

An asylum seeker whose claim is refused will generally have a right of appeal against the decision.

If they do appeal, they are expected to put forward any other arguments, such as a case based on human rights, as to why they should be allowed to remain in the UK.

The decision on the appeal is made by an immigration judge at a tribunal hearing. The proportion of appeals allowed has been in the range of 25 per cent to 41 per cent in recent years, so a significant number of initial decisions are found to be wrong by the tribunal.

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