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An analysis of the pressures being faced by frontline border control staff

There are many professions where making a mistake could have devastating consequences.

A doctor, for example, must make life-or-death judgements every day. Airline pilots, roofers and construction workers are also among the many jobs where danger is never far away, and only the skill and experience of those doing the work prevents a disaster.

Police and immigration officers are also arguably among those careers where important decisions must be made, decisions that can have lifelong effects for those people who might be looking for a better life here in the UK (or other geographies in the world).

However, those responsible for policing the UK borders are currently facing intense pressure which is making their daily responsibilities increasingly tough to carry out.

Increased workplace pressure

A report by I News outlines how the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats has risen almost one hundred-fold over the past three years, according to analysis of Home Office data.

Almost 26,000 people are believed to have arrived in Britain this year after crossing the Channel on a small boat. In 2018, the figure is thought to have been as small as 299, meaning the number has jumped almost 8,700 per cent over the past three years.

In addition to being faced with this intense pressure, our police and immigration staff also have to deal with a terrible element of human tragedy, with regular, terrible reports in the news of drownings, boats capsizing and bodies being washed up on the beach.

Potential job-role changes

One of the topics that Home Secretary Priti Patel keeps returning to is potentially changing the law to allow the UK to “push back” boats en-route to the UK and return them to their departure-point, France.

Border Force staff are being trained to employ “turn-around” tactics at sea under plans developed for two years, a statement from the Home Office said.

It would allow UK officers to force small boats back into French waters. It is unclear if the proposals would include taking migrants back to French shores.

The proposals have already been rejected by the French government. Interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, has stated these plans cannot be accepted, on the grounds that “safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy”.

Recent analysis shows that such plans stand, at best, on a flimsy legal footing. In addition to facing three legal challenges from charities over the controversial “push back” plans, the Home Secretary has been advised that the odds of successfully defending a challenge in the courts against the lawfulness of plans to send vessels carrying people back to France is “less than 30%”.

What does this all mean for the police, border force and immigration officers?

Realities for those on the front line

As anyone who has been in a situation governed by unclear rules and regulations will be able to testify, those facing the immigrants who are risking their lives to make the perilous journey by boat from France are facing a torrid time just now.

Not only do they know that their actions are being scrutinised by the media daily, they risk witnessing the type of horrors that no-one should ever witness in their lifetime.

Add to this the possibility that they will be asked to “push back” the flimsy boats – against an unclear legal backdrop – and that multiple pressure groups are looking for any excuse to highlight any perceived bad handling of the crisis and you begin to see that currently, our immigration professionals are operating on a very unclear footing.

Even if the “push back” policy does become government policy and does become enshrined in UK law, it is likely that it will cause such widespread condemnation from many different groups and organisations that those on the front line will be reluctant to actually enforce it.

It is likely such a policy will not see the light of day, anyway. Government advisory documents say that the government has been advised that a legal challenge against the lawfulness, or vires, of the turnaround tactics is likely to be successful.

“Whilst confirmation that the tactics are lawful would be very welcome, legal advice is that a ruling against the government is the more likely outcome in relation to vires. Counsel has advised that the prospect of successfully defending a claim on vires is less than 30%,” it said.

The attorney general’s office has advised that the Home Office should prepare for a legal challenge, the document said.

Currently, immigration professionals are facing muddy waters when it comes to their daily work routine, waters almost as muddy as the English Channel itself. It remains to be seen whether or not major changes will be brought in by the government – however, whatever the changes might be, it is certain that their roles will remain difficult, to say the very least.

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