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What’s Happening with Britain’s Borders?

From COVID confusion to Channel crossings and organised crime, Britain’s border problems paint a picture of confusion

First, there were outright travel bans, then bubbles, air bridges – and now travel corridors. Some might say there is confusion, particularly with this week’s divergence of lockdown-easing protocols between the UK and the Scottish governments. It seems that the Scottish are banned from travelling to Spain this year by the First Minister, Nicole Sturgeon, whilst Boris Johnson (who is also the Prime Minister of Scotland) has given carte blanche for the English and Welsh to say, “Hola, una cerveza por favor.” And, for those living in England near the Scottish borders whose nearest international airport is Edinburgh? It could be either un vino blanco or a cup of tea in Scarborough.


Then there is the thorny question of whether to quarantine – or not to quarantine. On 8th June, the UK introduced mandatory quarantine rules for anybody arriving from abroad – which many commentators welcomed as a much-needed (if not overdue) measure to control the spread of the virus. The cry ‘too little too late’ was not uncommon.


Fast-forward one month and, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘accelerating and getting worse’, with new infections having doubled over the past six weeks. The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, warned that the virus is not under control, “In most of the world.” It may come as a surprise, therefore, that on the very same day as the WHO announcement, the UK government cancelled its new 14-days quarantine rule for people returning from a list of 76 countries.


As Britain’s airports gear up for a rise in the number of arrivals, the nation’s border forces on the south coast are continuing to stem the flow of largely Arab and African migrants travelling across the English Channel from the French coast. On 8th July, the Daily Telegraph reported news from Migrationwatchuk that the number of illegal migrants crossing the English Channel is set to hit 7,500 by Christmas – four times last year’s figure. This raises valid health concerns both for the people of Great Britain and those packed tightly into unseaworthy boats.


The Belfast Telegraph points out that migrant crossings have surged during the coronavirus lockdown, with nearly 2,000 reaching the south coast of England since lockdown began on March 23rd. Those caught and brought to shore are a known quantity that can be quarantined – many more who reach our shores undetected will neither be quarantined nor tracked or traced. Home Office statistics from the National Audit Office released on 17th June 2020, estimate that there are currently around 860,000 illegal immigrants in the UK – although in 2019 the Pew Research Centre suggested it could be as high as 1.2 million. It also details the harm that illegal immigration causes.


Illegal immigrants, working illegally, are more likely to be paid below the minimum wage, more likely to be targeted by criminal gangs, forced in sex work, more likely to end up on the streets, and more likely to be forced into organised crime. The BBC documentary, Life of Crime, explains how many illegal immigrants are victims of organised crime, leading to, ‘Despair for the many people affected by it on both sides of the law; from prostitutes, drugs addicts, burglary, car crime and muggings, which are often carried out to fund drug habits.’



The documentary points out that the majority of organised crime groups in the UK are indigenous, British-born gangs and the biggest activity amongst them is drug smuggling, which accounts for 56% of all organised crime. But this does not mean that illegal immigrants are invulnerable to crime gangs or incapable of becoming directly involved in crime themselves – and funding cuts aren’t helping.


Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, the Immigration Enforcement Directorate saw its resources cut by 11%, which has led to reduced spending on development projects and reducing its headcount by 5%. Over the same period, 62% of Immigration Enforcement detainees have been released without removal because of problems in completing their return. This poses a threat to national security, overall crime – and leaves hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants vulnerable to being taken advantage of by organised crime gangs.


Whether we’re talking about COVID-19 or illegal immigration, the British approach to borders and immigration are failing to properly serve the indigenous population or help those who come to our shores illegally through human trafficking and who may be vulnerable. Legal or otherwise – we all deserve better.

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