The horrific disaster in the Channel has raised stark and difficult questions about why migrants are so desperate to reach Britain.
Almost 26,000 are known to have made the hugely dangerous journey so far this year – though the true number may be higher.
But just days before this week’s tragedy, a startling statistic had emerged.
Junior minister Tom Pursglove was asked by home affairs committee chairman Yvette Cooper how many of these thousands of people had been returned to the Continent this year.
‘Five,’ came Mr Pursglove’s revealingly meek reply.
Newly-arrived migrants sleeping on a bus while waiting to be processed at the port of Dover yesterday
The truth is once an asylum seeker reaches British soil, they are unlikely to leave – whether or not their claim is genuine. And that is just one reason why so many risk their lives to reach here.
This is a safe, prosperous country, far more generous to asylum seekers than most of its neighbours, where claimants are housed, fed and even permitted to work after the first year. That explains the attraction.
But why can’t we remove so-called ‘economic migrants’, while offering a safe haven to those fleeing persecution?
Step-by-step, this is what happens from the moment a migrant lands on a British beach…
Pizzas and kebabs
Some migrants enter Britain undetected, landing vessels and rushing on to the shore before the authorities can stop them.
Then they disappear into the country. There are, of course, no official figures on how many of these ‘clandestines’ make it here.
If they reach cities before encountering police or immigration officials, they can vanish into the black economy and live undetected indefinitely.
Migrants encountered at sea by British authorities are handed lifejackets and foil blankets for warmth, then brought ashore – usually to the Home Office’s processing centre at Tug Haven in the Port of Dover.
Here, they are given clothing and hot food – sometimes surprisingly expensive. This month, it emerged the Home Office had ordered 3,000 chicken shish kebab meals, costing £19.50 each, from a Kent chain of takeaways – plus hundreds of Domino’s pizzas – to feed the arrivals.
At Tug Haven, initial details are taken from the new arrivals, who undergo welfare checks and are sorted into families or single people, mostly men. Then they travel by coach to hotels around Britain.
Now the handouts
Mobile phones – paid for by the taxpayer – are distributed so the Home Office can keep in touch with the migrants.
Pressure group Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for tougher border controls, says 14,000 handsets were given out between January and September this year.
Migrants also receive £39.63 a week each from the Home Office to pay for essentials.
Those caring for babies and infants are given extra sums for food, and expectant mothers can apply for a one-off £300 payment.
One of a group of migrants brought ashore by officials after crossing the channel in the middle of the night. They were brought in to Dover Docks by Border Force boat Vigilant at 5pm, followed by the RNLI lifeboat half hour later
Hotels have become the main form of accommodation for migrant arrivals since the crisis exploded last year. Taxpayers are funding multi-million pound bills for thousands of rooms in three and four-star accommodation, on full board.
Conditions are far cosier than those in mainland Europe. Greece, for example, opened a massive EU-funded asylum-processing centre – which resembles a prison – on the island of Samos in the summer.
The huge cost of accommodation has contributed to a huge rise in the asylum bill – which rocketed to almost £1.4billion in the year to March, up 42 per cent year-on-year.
Most migrants stay in hotels for months as their claims are processed. Here, some stand accused – including by Home Secretary Priti Patel – of ‘gaming the system’.
Before migrants even leave France, people traffickers brief them to emphasise aspects that could make their case stronger, and even to destroy their passports.
Some claimants lie. Case files show asylum seekers have told untruths about their nationality, religion, background, sexuality and age – all in an attempt to strengthen their claims.
Some asylum seekers who are clearly adults have claimed to be under 18 and been taught in secondary schools alongside British teenagers.
Legal advice – from migrant charities or legal aidfunded lawyers – also helps claimants to make the best case.
Last week Miss Patel said the suicide bomber who attacked a women’s hospital in Liverpool on Remembrance Sunday had exploited a ‘merry-go-round’ of asylum appeals, launching a series of legal challenges.
The terrorist, Emad Al Swealmeen, 32, had been in the Home Office’s system for seven years and had an outstanding asylum appeal, meaning he could not be deported.
He had even converted to Christianity in an apparent attempt to improve his case – though investigators have revealed he was seen praying at a mosque in the months before his attack.
Eventually, permanent accommodation may be found in social housing or the private rental sector, provided by local authorities.
Claims continue to be processed – but progress is tortuous.
Figures published yesterday show that at the end of September, more than 67,500 cases were awaiting an initial decision.
About 30,000 cases are more than a year old and, crucially, asylum seekers can apply for the right to work if the Home Office has not made a decision within a year.
In all more than 125,000 claims – equivalent to the populations of Exeter or Solihull – are being processed, including those who have lodged appeals and failed asylum seekers.
A group of migrants are brought in yesterday to Dover, Kent, by the RNLI
If a case is refused, legal aid-funded lawyers will launch challenges in the immigration courts. This can involve repeated claims lasting years. Many will hinge on the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined in law by Labour’s 1998 Human Rights Act.
In many appeals that are ultimately rejected, the failed asylum seeker still cannot be removed – for example because their home country is deemed unsafe. Other legal challenges are jaw-dropping.
Last year a Zimbabwean gun criminal won the latest skirmish in his 14-year battle to avoid deportation, telling the Supreme Court that back home he’d be unable to access his HIV medication – despite the fact 86 per cent of HIVpositive Zimbabweans do receive such treatment.
He was permitted to launch yet another appeal. Even clandestine arrivals who get into Britain undetected eventually have legal options.
If they manage to remain under the radar for 20 years, they can apply for regularised status, and a decade later even win ‘indefinite leave to remain’.
Is it any wonder that, despite the huge risks, tens of thousands are making the perilous journey?