047 | Daniel Sohege | Busting myths about refugees and Channel crossings

Arriving without a visa to claim asylum is legal, there is no queue to jump and there is no such thing as the "first safe country" rule.

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

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Also, there is no queue to wait in or to jump, most people aren't trafficked or smuggled, and only a trickle of the world's refugees arrive in rich countries. Refugee rights consultant Daniel Sohege breaks down the false arguments about asylum seekers making the rounds in media and on Twitter.

In this episode

  • 🙅 First-safe-country "rule", smugglers vs. traffickers, "illegal" entry and other misconceptions corrected
  • 🇬🇧🇫🇷 Understanding the tug-a-war between France and the UK
  • 🇧🇾 Why Belarus's challenge to the EU worked

Show notes

[00:00:22] Intro
[00:03:05] Is this a migrant crisis?
[00:06:01] Channel crossings are for many the only option. Still, very few take it.
[00:07:25] There just isn't a queue to jump to apply for asylum
[00:09:43] "First safe country" is a myth
[00:11:55] Arriving by boat without pre-authorisation is not illegal
[00:12:46] Most border crossings are not arranged by smugglers
[00:16:14] Hard border controls can feed smuggling and trafficking businesses
[00:19:47] Airlines and other carriers can be fined for unknowingly helping people carry out their legal right to seek asylum
[00:21:35] 98% of those people who cross the Channel seek asylum
[00:26:22] How French police harasses asylum seekers
[00:27:57] What do we prioritise: the border or human life?
[00:31:10] There are better ways to spend our countries' money than on draconian border controls
[00:33:08] What a better refugee system could look like
[00:36:11] Rich nations are not taking their fair share
[00:41:43] Outro

🐦 Follow Daniel Sohege at @stand_for_all


Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

[00:00:00] Daniel Sohege: If we say, well, France should take them, that's the first safe country. Then France says the next country should have taken them. We already see 86% of refugees in developing nations. This would just force everybody into a handful of countries. The idea that people should stay in the first safe country they arrive in has got no basis in law and not basis in common sense.

[00:00:22] Intro

[00:00:22] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:36] You've heard one of them, I'm sure. That guy on Twitter, who sees a post about a woman drowning in the Channel, and who says: that's sad, but she should have waited her turn. The guy in the comment section who blames a father for having been separated from his child by immigration enforcement. Or that uncle at Christmas dinner, who says other countries should welcome refugees, but not us. Certainly not us. When I see those comments and there's been a lot this week after the tragedy in the Channel over the weekend, I get angry.

[00:01:12] But there is someone that I turned to to help me get over that anger or at least find the right words to respond. And that's my guest today. Daniel Sohege. He is the director of Stand for All, a progressive organization in the UK. He is an expert on international refugee law and someone who advocates constantly for refugees and for applying the international laws and treaties that we have all signed up to when it comes to compassionate enforcement of asylum.

[00:01:44] Now Daniel is certainly partisan and an advocate on these issues as are other guests I've had on the podcast. And I've thought a lot about what my role here is as a journalist. But I'll be honest. This is one of those issues on which I refuse to see two sides. It's like climate change and a handful of other topics that we cover as journalists. There has to be aligned where human rights and just being a decent person takes precedence over playing both sides of a political argument that has no place in civilized society.

[00:02:20] So that's what we're discussing today with Daniel Sohege. Here he is.

[00:02:25] Thank you, Daniel, for joining me beyond the Twitter feed

[00:02:33] Daniel Sohege: Thank you for having me on. It's great to be here.

[00:02:36] Isabelle Roughol: So I thought, gosh, I have so many questions and I'm gonna, I'm going to play dumb a little bit because, um, a lot of my questions are actually things that I see people say about the current migration situation that drive me crazy. And I, I don't know, you know, how to phrase the best response. And then I look to you and you always have a great thread about why, you know, whatever someone said in a tabloid is absolutely idiotic. So, uh, so I'm gonna play, I'm gonna play the dumb role in this one.

[00:03:05] Is this a migrant crisis?

[00:03:05] Isabelle Roughol: But I thought we should start with kind of looking at what's the situation now. We had horrible news on Friday, of 27 people dying, trying to cross the Channel. I think this one made more news because it's a larger number, but it's not a one off thing. It's not a rare occurrence, is it?

[00:03:26] So what's happening in the Channel right now? Is it, you know, is it a crisis which is the headline you see everywhere?

[00:03:33] Daniel Sohege: it's not a crisis. It's not a, it's definitely not a migrant crisis. It, it might be a political crisis from the point of view of the government, but the numbers we're seeing, they're still far lower than a lot of other countries. There's good reasons why people are crossing the channel at the moment as opposed to taking other routes..

[00:03:52] Um, and the death toll last week of 27 people was significant because of how many people it was from one boat. But if you think back two years ago, 39 people died in the back of a refrigerated lorry. Uh, For because they were crossing the UK and that's... so, these aren't new issues, these aren't things that are suddenly sprung up from nowhere. And it's definitely not a crisis in terms that it's being put across in the media.

[00:04:23] More drivers for people having to move

[00:04:23] Isabelle Roughol: So so what is happening? Are we seeing more crossings? Are we seeing more, um, asylum applications, more migrants wanting to make their way to Europe into the UK than we might have a couple of years ago, than we might have before the pandemic?

[00:04:40] Daniel Sohege: Well, the last year and a half during the pandemic overall asylum applications in the UK have actually been down on previous. And we're still, even though they are increasing, we're still nowhere close to previous numbers that we were seeing just 10, 20 years ago. So aren't numbers that are insurmountable, but what we are seeing are a lot more drivers for people having to move.

[00:05:07] Um, climate change is obviously creating a major driver, but people who are displaced by climate change aren't technically classed as refugees and therefore can't seek asylum. Um, also ongoing conflicts: Afghanistan at the moment, we're seeing more people having to flee there since Taliban took control again. Yemen is still ongoing. There's been civil conflict in Sudan. Eritrea again, we're seeing increased conflict.

[00:05:34] So there's a lot of different drivers for people. Um, the main two countries people cross into the UK are Iran and Iraq, and we know there's good reasons why people continue to flee and seek safety from that. So, so we're not seeing changes from pre pandemic. We're seeing same thing, just more focused. People are more aware of it, I think would be the way to put it because other routes have being closed.

[00:06:01] Channel crossings are for many the only option. Still, very few take it.

[00:06:01] Isabelle Roughol: Um, so crossing the channel in a boat kind of becomes the only way.

[00:06:06] Daniel Sohege: Yeah, it's almost seeing all of routes that we saw pre pandemic being funneled into one and as well as been incredibly dangerous crossing, it's also one that provides very good images for the press. So when you have pictures of people coming off boats on the.beaches, it makes for good press coverage, which keeps it highlighted. And it becomes a rolling thing rather than people actually focusing on what the reality of the situation is.

[00:06:33] Isabelle Roughol: Um, I remember, and that's been a thing for, for a while now. I remember when I was studying journalism in the U S we were talking about undocumented migration and it was always, you know, some picture of people trying to cross the Rio Grande at a Mexican border. And it was like, well, actually most undocumented people just overstayed a visa and you know, it's just, it's not, it's not quite as picturesque, but it is the reality.

[00:06:59] Daniel Sohege: That's the thing. I mean, if we look in the UK, I believe it's about 86 per cent of people who become undocumented arrive perfectly legally. And it's normally down to there can be a delay submitting the form or something's prevented it, but they've come perfectly legally. I mean, we're talking very small numbers overall who enter the country and don't seek asylum and then become undocumented further on from the start. And it's the same in America.

[00:07:25] There just isn't a queue to jump to apply for asylum

[00:07:25] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. And, and in France and everywhere. So I want to, I want to talk through kind of a few of the objections that we hear, bearing in mind that these are incredibly heartless and immoral objections to have when someone just died. But unfortunately they are the conversations that we're forced to have.

[00:07:45] Um, and this weekend on Twitter, I just got a little mad because a journalist shared a beautiful picture of the first identified victim, of the, the boats that sank. And it was a 21 year old, um, Iraqi, Kurdish woman, seeking to get married with her partner who was already in the UK. And so many responses were ~"~sad, but why didn't she wait in the queue like everyone else? Why didn't she wait her turn?~"~ Uh, So why don't they? Where, is there a queue?

[00:08:22] Daniel Sohege: There's, there's no queue. Um, one of the things we see a lot in the press is that people, they refer to those crossing as migrants rather than asylum seekers. And that creates this false impression that people can enter through the immigration system rather than the asylum system, which are two separate things. There's no queue for an asylum seeker. They are all justified in coming across.

[00:08:48] In the case of Nuri, it's incredibly tragic in more than one way, more than just the loss of life. that We've previously had family reunification routes. They've been suspended. There used to be routes that she could possibly have used rather than the channel crossing, which don't exist at this moment in time for people. So, no one's jumping a queue for this, they're using the only route really left to people to try and find safety in the UK.

[00:09:18] And there's good reasons why people feel safer in the UK. And again, it's a small number, then they do in France, but there's no queue jumping involved. Is it? And people can't apply for asylum outside of the UK. They can't apply for a visa to come here. If you're fleeing war and persecution, you're not liable to be able to get a visa from the country you're fleeing from. So there's all sorts of good reasons why people have to make the channel crossing.

[00:09:43] "First safe country" is a myth

[00:09:43] Isabelle Roughol: So that's another objection that we hear a lot is like, why didn't they apply for asylum in the first safe country that they entered on route to the UK, the UK, you know, in Britain being an island. It's always going to be another country that you go through on the way to it, right?

[00:10:03] Daniel Sohege: Oh, this is one of the ones which always gets me, the first safe country, because it doesn't exist anywhere in legal instruments. Closest you'll get is the Dublin regulations, which says first port of entry. And that's way down the list of hierarchy of needs and where people should be processed for their applications. And it doesn't make any sense in a logical sense anyway, because if you say first safe country, if we say, well, France should take them. That's the first safe country. Then France says the next country should have taken.

[00:10:32] them We already see 86% of refugees in developing nations. This would just force everybody into a handful of countries. So it makes absolutely no sense on a logical basis. This is no sense on a legal basis.

[00:10:48] And there's very good reasons people feel safer in the UK. Family ties, as we've just spoken about or language. English is a widely spoken language, part of its colonial heritage is that a lot of people around the world speak it. If you speak the language, you're going to feel safer in the country than you do in one when you're done. Particularly if you've had to flee everything, and leave everything behind, your idea of what's safe is going to be very specific. So the first safe country myth is, it is a myth, but it seems to have gained traction recently unfortunately.

[00:11:22] Isabelle Roughol: Perhaps, because we hear a lot from, uh, uh, some of our leaders who, who say very convincingly that it has a basis in law. Um, I'm just not sure which law.

[00:11:35] Daniel Sohege: That's the thing. It has no basis in law, but we hear it time and again, from politicians, journalists, from people on Twitter, obviously, but it's got no... the idea that people should stay in the first safe country they arrive in has got no basis in law and not basis in common sense.

[00:11:55] Arriving by boat without pre-authorisation is not illegal

[00:11:55] Isabelle Roughol: Okay. Okay. Another one that I'm curious about is the idea that people arrive illegally. Is it illegal to land on British shores without pre-authorization and say, you know, ~"~uncle, hello, Mr. Police Officer, I need help. Let me seek asylum.~"~

[00:12:14] Daniel Sohege: So long as they seek asylum, I believe it's in within three days, they are not here illegally. For that period until they have sought asylum, it's undocumented, but there is nothing illegal about setting off from the coast of France. There is nothing illegal about crossing the channel and there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum.

[00:12:33] In fact, under international law, your right to enter a country by any means that you see necessary to seek asylum is protected. You cannot be penalized for your manner of entry.

[00:12:46] Most border crossings are not arranged by smugglers

[00:12:46] Isabelle Roughol: And yet it is, um, uh, a manner of entry that is entirely controlled by criminal gangs.

[00:12:55] Daniel Sohege: um,

[00:12:56] Isabelle Roughol: Is it?

[00:12:57] Daniel Sohege: No, I disagree with that. That's a common one and it's one we see so often that I can understand why a lot of people think it. But what we're actually seeing in Calais and the shores of France, there are criminal gangs, absolutely. Smugglers and traffickers. And those are two very different things. And they used to have a lot firmer grasp on it. What's happened over recent times, it is more, you see family groups or groups of friends or social groups who've met up during the rest of the journey who then actually self facilitate. They buy the dingy again, perfectly legal to buy a dinghy. And organize the crossing themselves. They're not smugglers. They are doing it in social groups. It's not just about criminal gangs that we're talking about here. Not every crossing is criminally facilitated.

[00:13:49] Isabelle Roughol: Okay. Do you have a sense of the proportion of each or?

[00:13:54] Daniel Sohege: I, I don't know entirely. Um, there's been some statistics flying ground, but it's one of those ones which is far too hard for anyone to be able to say for certain the exact proportion. So we couldn't, we can't really pinpoint it. What we've know anecdotally is that it's an increasing thing of self facilitation, and we're probably seeing slightly more of, I would say, or people making their own way across than relying on gangs.

[00:14:19] Smugglers are not traffickers

[00:14:19] Isabelle Roughol: Okay. And for the part that is, um, criminal gangs, you mentioned a difference between smugglers and traffickers, which I've heard you talk about before, but our listeners haven't. So can you explain what that difference is? Um, and, and who, who falls into each category?

[00:14:36] Daniel Sohege: Yeah. this has always been a bit of a bugbear of mine because in a lot of reporting, it's always referred to with traffickers. The thing is most of the gangs who are organizing crossings are smugglers. And it sounds like I'm being pedantic nitpicking here, but a smuggler...

[00:14:54] Smuggling is transact. So they will pay up front normally. They can be threatened, and obviously we are talking about criminal gangs, to make the journey. It tends to be voluntary. You go to a smuggler yourself, you pay up front transactional, it's short term. Once your journey is over, that's it they're done with you. They're finished.

[00:15:17] Trafficking is where it's often not voluntary. Often you're taking from places or that you've been coerced by various means. It doesn't have to cross a border. Smuggling crosses borders, trafficking can happen. It happens in the UK constantly. We have children within the UK who are trafficked. the county lines is something that crops up in the news quite often. And it leads to long-term exportation.

[00:15:46] So if someone, where do you see the real issue is when people can't afford to pay smugglers, they're then forced into the hands of traffickers who will extract payment afterwards by exploiting people. And that's where you have all sorts of long-term criminal facilitation of in the gray and black economies taking place as well. It's, they're the ones who... Both are criminals, but traffickers will continue to harm people even after the crossing's been made.

[00:16:14] Hard border controls can feed smuggling and trafficking businesses

[00:16:14] Isabelle Roughol: I know a lot of, uh, refugee advocates such as yourself are quite mad at some of the policies that are coming out of the British government, because essentially they facilitate the work quote unquote of, um, smugglers and traffickers, and kind of play into their hands. So how do they play into their hand and, and what should be done instead to reduce that criminality?

[00:16:39] Daniel Sohege: Well, if you look at some of the upcoming legislation in the UK, the Nationality and Borders Bill, it makes it harder for victims of trafficking to come forward, because if they aren't identified within a set period of time they risk being deported. If they have been, they can say that they've committed a criminal act during that period, they can be deported. So traffickers can turn around and say, ~"~you've broken the law,~"~ even though they'd been forced into it by the traffickers, ~"~if you set foot and if you go to the authorities they'll deport you.~"~ So it just adds an extra thing that traffickers can use to hold over them.

[00:17:14] By creating a two tier system, it denies people rights, which again, makes it harder for them and less likely that they're able to report on trafficking and smuggling, for example, or identify those who've been carrying out, the actual serious criminals running it. It makes it more likely they are going to be deported. So that creates a never-ending cycle for the traffickers.

[00:17:38] As we said, people, when they're coming here --again, it's a small proportion-- are coming for good reasons. So if you just send them back to another country , they're not going to suddenly go, ~"~that's it. I don't need to come back to Uk. They're forced back into the hands of gangs. It's a never ending supply of people who've been created.

[00:17:57] What we need to be doing is looking at ways that we can take that supply element away from the gangs. And there's lots of suggestions, put forward. Sometimes you'll hear the phrase safe and legal routes, which is a bit of a fluffy term because the government uses out to discuss resettlement routes. Resettlement routes count for about 4% of all asylum seekers globally. So, I mean, fairly limited anyway, across the whole world.

[00:18:25] So safe and legal routes needs to be expanded to also include things like removing carrier liability fines for example. That's where, whether it's an airline, Eurostar, ferries, they can be fined and potentially face criminal charges if even unknowingly, they transport an asylum seeker. So it turns cabin crew into de facto border enforcement agents. They can remove someone from a flight if they think that person is going to seek asylum in the UK.

[00:18:53] So if we change that so that people were able to make other, take other routes in, then it takes out the need to rely on gangs. If we set up processing abilities in France so that people can start to have their claims processed there, then again, it removes that need to cross the Channel.

[00:19:12] There's no silver bullet to any of this. There's no one-off we can do this and it will solve everything. But we need to be looking at why do people cross and how can we make it simpler, easier for them to seek asylum when they do need to, rather than just focusing on exclusion, which just keeps driving people back into the hands of gangs. And as the money dwindles for smugglers they're forced further into the chance of having to go to traffickers, which creates longterm exportation, longterm criminal problems.

[00:19:47] Airlines and other carriers can be fined for unknowingly helping people carry out their legal right to seek asylum

[00:19:47] Isabelle Roughol: The carrier liability law that you mentioned, um, it's worth highlighting. It is, you can be fined for letting someone travel legally to a country where they will legally apply for asylum when they arrive.

[00:20:05] Daniel Sohege: Yes. Yep.

[00:20:07] They can have all the correct documents. They can have that passport, all the boarding ticket, bought the ticket perfectly legally, fly as any of us would to another country. But if the airline thinks they are going to seek asylum having landed, having broken no laws, they can still remove someone from that flight. And that airline, if they do allow them to fly, can still be fined.

[00:20:35] Isabelle Roughol: Interesting because I'm trying to picture the kind of traveler who would be targeted in that way. Um, you know, if you're a political opponent in Hong Kong or somewhere, you fly to London and you apply for asylum. And I don't think anyone stops you doing that as they shouldn't, you know.

[00:20:56] Daniel Sohege: No. Um, we're seeing it at the moment with moves to help facilitate, for example, people getting out of Hong Kong who have been sort of at the focus of some of the political unrest at the moment.

[00:21:08] It tends to be applied realistically from people coming from more developing nations. And there is, I think it's safe to say, an unfortunate, deliberate or otherwise, level of implied racism in it. They see somebody and go that person can't be coming to the UK just for a holiday or we think, and there's always going to be a level of implied racism in that judgment at the time.

[00:21:35] 98% of those people who crossed the channel seek asylum.

[00:21:35] Isabelle Roughol: um, the final question that I have about objections we hear a lot in the UK, and then we'll make sure to criticize other countries as well, starting with mine. Um, Is the idea that, well, they're not refugees anyway, you know, nine out of 10 they're economic migrants and they have no legitimacy in coming over. And they're not going to seek asylum, or they're not going to get asylum if they seek it.

[00:22:01] Daniel Sohege: Which we hear our home secretary Priti Patel continually come out with this claim. She's repeated that 70% of those crossing the channel are young men and economic migrants more than once. And there is no evidence to support that. In fact, the evidence shows the exact opposite. 98% of those people who crossed the channel seek asylum. 91% of them come from 10 major refugee producing countries. More than 60% of them are granted asylum once they've sought it. The majority of people that we are seeing cross the tunnel, there is no argument other than say. They are in inverted commas, 'genuine asylum seekers'.

[00:22:45] So it makes no sense to try and argue that they're not. We do not have the most open and welcoming asylum system in the UK. And even under our current rules, the majority of people who've crossed are granted asylum either on first instance or second on appeal. And it's roughly about 70% will get asylum in the end.

[00:23:07] Isabelle Roughol: Okay. We know that the British government is quite mad at France, and France is quite mad at the UK right now as well, , because, um, essentially it is blaming France for not doing enough to stop those crossings. And, um, at the heart of that is a treaty that we're suddenly hearing a lot about, on French news at least, which essentially has moved the British border on French soil. Is that right?

[00:23:39] Daniel Sohege: That's right. Yeah. Effectively.

[00:23:41] It allows effectively, uh, Britain to run its border controls on French soil to prevent people crossing the channel via any means. Um, so they don't have to be processed. Because as soon as they are in the UK, then you enter a whole other world of returns and you need an agreement with countries in order to return people. And obviously a lot of other countries are not keen on saying, well, ~"~we'll take more refugees so that you can take fewer.~"~

[00:24:13] Isabelle Roughol: Brexit didn't help either with the return agreements.

[00:24:17] Daniel Sohege: Brexit didn't help with the return agreements because it pulled us out to the Dublin agreement. But ironically because I said earlier on about the hierarchy of needs for processing, Britain under the Dublin regulations took more asylum seekers than it returned because of family ties in particular. And it was still a very small number. You're talking 300, I think it was something like that, a year, which a very small number.

[00:24:46] But the idea that Brexit was suddenly going to make it easier remove people from Britain never made any sense because you suddenly were removing yourself from any agreement that would have allowed for any returns. So you can't just send people back to a country where country said, no, we're not accepting.

[00:25:09] Isabelle Roughol: All right, so sorry I interrupted you, but you were talking about the British border in France. So essentially British border control or UK border control is happening in France. And it is France that is responsible for making sure boats don't leave in the direction of England.

[00:25:28] Daniel Sohege: That's correct. Yeah.

[00:25:29] France, up until the point that the boats have left French waters, is theoretically responsible for ensuring they don't leave from French beaches. But there's actually very little that Franec can do overall to stop it. Because again what are you stopping people under? What are you prosecuting under? Because it's not illegal to launch a boat. So they are in a difficult position.

[00:25:56] Now I'm not saying that in this that France is entirely blameless. We've seen pictures, for example, of French police watching some of the boats setting off in conditions where they know that people are going to be at risk, but overall they really aren't. They don't have that many options overall to stop people carrying out what is essentially a legal activity at the time.

[00:26:22] How French police harasses asylum seekers

[00:26:22] Isabelle Roughol: So let's talk about how France is treating people who are currently around Calais, in Normandy where, where my family lives. Uh, I see them sometimes when I cross as well. How is the French police, is the French government, um, treating people who are there waiting to cross?

[00:26:42] Daniel Sohege: Um, not good. It's the simple answer to that. Last year France was actually found guilty of violating refugee rights and fined for it.. We're seeing at the moment the destruction of camps again. Now the argument for destroying camps is that it will deter people from making, coming to Calais and Normandy, and making Channel crossings. We saw the same arguments made five years ago when they destroyed the jungle camp in Calais. All it did was leave people without any shelter over winter, forcing more people to have to risk the crossings because otherwise they were going to freeze to death on the side of the road effectively.

[00:27:18] In Calais, it was made illegal a number of years ago for organizations to provide aid, food and water to asylum seekers who were sleeping rough. We've seen plenty of evidence of police officers attacking both asylum seekers and NGO workers.

[00:27:36] Um, so there are serious issues with the treatment of asylum seekers, but it's not limited to just France. I mean, this is something which we see widespread across the EU, many, basically pretty much every developed country. We see it where there are asylum seekers having to sleep rough.

[00:27:57] What do we prioritise: the border or human life?

[00:27:57] Isabelle Roughol: Um, so let's zoom out then. The other so-called crisis we're seeing in Europe is at the Eastern border, especially between Belarus and Poland, right, where the EU is saying is accusing. Well, there is proof of it that Belarus has been essentially using migrants as kind of a, uh, uh, a weapon. a terrible word to use, but, uh, yeah, against, um, against.

[00:28:29] Daniel Sohege: There's no question that Lukashenko is doing that. And we've seen so much evidence of this. We're seeing fellow and border control guys who are actually physically forcing people towards the Polish border. There is, however, the argument to be made that he can only do thatbecause he knows what the EU's response will be. We're talking about 4 to 5,000 people overall, again, most coming from Iraq and Iran. That would be about 150 people per EU country if they provided safety for them. Instead, what we're seeing are tactics, including water cannons on people who are already freezing and suffering hypothermia, to keep them out.

[00:29:21] I dunno, I don't like ascribing blame because I think that too often, we focus on the blame that needs to be ascribed rather than how we can work for solutions. But in this instance, both sides to different extents and different reasons are to blame for the current situation on the border. What the focus I think needs to be is that we're seeing children freezing to death on the border of one of the world's largest trading blocks and some of the richest countries in the world are in that blog. And we know that Lucashenko is not going to stop. We have to, I say we, as in the EU and the UK, have to step up and say, which we prioritizing more: the border or people's lives? And that's what it comes down to at this point in time across the whole border fence.

[00:30:14] Isabelle Roughol: But the political response so far has been about strengthening the border, right? That's that's what we keep hearing.

[00:30:20] Daniel Sohege: That's what we keep hearing. There was a meeting at the weekend regarding the Channel crossings in particular, but did focus on the fact that the response is from the EU: they need to strengthen their border controls. Now the EU's border controls currently involve externalization. That's where you get other countries to deal with asylum seekers, predominantly Lybia where we know that in camps, which have been EU-funded, people are tortured and sold into slavery. So they expend billions on this. They've paid Turkey to host asylum seekers. Turkey has about 3.6 million refugees. And the answer isn't going to be, let's just continue doing this and making it harder because we've seen that it doesn't work. We've seen what its costs are.


[00:31:10] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. It's something that has always, um, I've always found stunning. I saw a number recently and it was in Australia and the annual cost of hosting a single refugee on Nauru, uh, where they've externalized their detention immigration detention, was 4 million Australian dollars a year. Uh, think of the amount of humanitarian good you can do.

[00:31:33] Daniel Sohege: That's always my argument. It is phenomenally expensive to keep people out when you could actually use that money to develop local communities, help with homelessness in your own country. parallel developments so you're able to provide support for local citizens and asylum seekers at the same time at a fraction of the cost that you spend trying to keep people out?

[00:31:56] Isabelle Roughol: I think the argument that, that you're going to hear against that is that if you let people in, you're creating a pull factor and you're going to encourage more people to come because they see that it works.

[00:32:10] Daniel Sohege: Pull factors are a contentious thing within any discussion of migration anyway. Pull factors are so personal to individuals. Whether or not you actually start saying we're going to let more people in or not, it is probably going to have very little impact on the number of people who at least seek asylum or seek trying to come in anyway.

[00:32:34] Um, as we said before, with the UK, it's family ties and language that is common pretty much everywhere. But most people stay in their regions of origin because most people want to, most refugees wanting to go back to their country of origin anyway. And that's, we see that time and again with statistics. But most people don't want to move too far away from their friends, their family, everybody they know, everything they know. It's not a pull factor like that. It's just ensuring that those who are coming anyway, aren't going to potentially die on the way.

[00:33:08] What a better refugee system could look like

[00:33:08] Isabelle Roughol: Hmm. So what does a good humane effective realistic immigration refugee asylum policy look like? Maybe, maybe stick with refugee and asylum cause I know you want to differentiate that from all other immigration.

[00:33:29] Daniel Sohege: Okay. With refugee and asylum, it needs to be well-resourced. The people who are processing applications need to be properly trained that they can identify the new ones. When people are seeking safety, they've obviously gone, they've normally gone through quite traumatic experiences. You can't just drag that out to somebody in one interview. I mean, you think about any of us. If we need to talk through problems, it takes time to be able to vocalize them, to actually accept them ourselves. So it needs to, they need to have trained people who can actually work with those who are crossing to find out story.

[00:34:07] That means resourcing systems better, because then you can speed up the systems so that you don't end up with these backlogs that we keep hearing about in the UK and across the EU. And you need to make it simpler to access. Ironically you will cut down on issues if you make it simpler and easier. Because people then, you can judge the claim faster for one thing. You know, if someone's coming in and you can process it quickly with trained people properly resourced, you can identify those who need assistance faster than if you're dragging your feet on any other way.

[00:34:43] Isabelle Roughol: It's interesting. I've talked, uh, on this podcast a few months ago with Dina Nayeri, who is an author and, um, was a refugee as a child. Uh, she talked about those, those interviews and the problems with trauma and being able to tell your story. And I thought it was very telling that we put these issues of asylum and refugee in every everywhere. I know and it'd be, I'd be happy to hear if it's different somewhere else, but it's always done by like an interior ministry or home office, a department in charge of security and policing, and not, you know, a social care kind of department. Is very telling.

[00:35:23] Daniel Sohege: That's very telling and it's pretty much the same across the board, that it is always treated as a security matter, as a criminal matter, rather than a social care matter.

[00:35:33] Um, just to bring it back to the UK for a second, we're seeing at the moment, children, unaccompanied children, some of whom have been trafficked, being placed in hotels. By the home office and then the home office passing them through to local authorities with the home office claiming it's the corporate payment this. But at no point should the Home Office be involved in that, it should be the department of education who deal with it on a child protection basis. But because they're asylum seeking, it's been taken to a security matter, and therefore the Home Office deals with that. And we see that all over the world.

[00:36:11] Developed nations are not taking their fair share

[00:36:11] Isabelle Roughol: Zooming out again to the broader world, you did mention a few times, I think it's worth highlighting, that in the grand scheme of things, the UK and Europe in general, takes very little responsibility or, or a, a smaller number than it probably should, in terms of receiving and welcoming refugees and asylum seekers.

[00:36:37] Daniel Sohege: Not just the UK and the developed nations, the home as an 86% of refugees have in developing nations. Now Germany deserves a mention on this for the fact that it is, it maintains being one of the higher numbers of high numbers. And it's about 1.2 million refugees. But they're the exception rather than the rule. We see more often than not refugees.are stuck for want of a better word, for some of them, in poor countries, developing countries and countries which need resources to be able to provide specific assistance for them.

[00:37:17] So they end up being denied that. Now we've seen that in Lybia recently, where there wasn't enough food to pass out to people who aren't allowed to go anywhere else. And we're saying detention camps there where people are crammed in sometimes two to 300 people per interview. Now some of the conditions are quite horrendous.

[00:37:37] Isabelle Roughol: You mentioned Germany. I don't know how much you follow German politics, but given the new coalition that just came in, are you hopeful that Germany is gonna maintain its rank in terms of, of, uh, welcoming refugees and perhaps influence Europe in a different direction?

[00:37:55] Daniel Sohege: I hope so. Um, we've seen recently, we mentioned about the border between Poland and Belarus,, the Eastern border and Germany did offer to open a humanitarian corridor for a certain number. So I'm hopeful, but I've also become increasingly cynical over the years of a lot of countries. So my hope is tempered by maybe a little bit of cynicism about how things will play out.

[00:38:23] Isabelle Roughol: I'm sorry you got cynical. Um, I'm trying, I'm trying not to be, but it's but you know, after, after months and months of interviews on this topic, it is, it is hard. I wonder if, in conclusion of our conversation and I hope you have an answer to this, can you point to a place that's doing this right?

[00:38:43] Daniel Sohege: There's, there's no perfect example. But if you look at outside of our own borders and government, you look at Uganda. Uganda brought in policies which allowed people to seek asylum, have a plot of land to work. They created very, a very inclusive way of dealing with asylum seekers originally. I will admit that has now started to shift away from that, but when they initially brought it in, it created an economic benefit for the whole country. So it worked. And if we can start looking at those sorts of policies and expanding on them, working out where the kinks were and how we work with local communities on that, then we can start to benefit everybody.

[00:39:30] But at the moment, what we're seeing is an increased focus across the world on controlling borders, strengthening border controls and deterrents. And there's no, there are some who are trying more than others to help asylum seekers. I don't think we can say at the moment there's anyone who's getting it absolutely right. There's a lot of work to be done and that needs to be done by all of us working together. It's not going to be solved by one country doing it. It needs to be a global push.

[00:40:04] Isabelle Roughol: The irony of course, it was a conversation a couple of weeks ago on the podcast, is that all the countries doing their best to keep refugees and asylum seekers and immigrants in general at bay, are also countries with aging and declining populations who could really use a kind of a new vital workforce.

[00:40:24] Daniel Sohege: Absolutely. It's one of the most ridiculous things about this, is that there's this sort of strange idea in people's minds that refugees must be uneducated or illiterate. And I see it. I get so many comments on this, um, constantly. I think it's nonsense. You are. The vast majority you're talking about highly educated people who are benefits to the countries they are going to. I mean, we saw during the pandemic that a number of countries actually started saying, ~"~if you are a trained doctor, please help us~"~ to refugees because we in, yeah, we are seeing aging populations, declining populations. And you shouldn't look at people in terms of what they can do for labor and things like that, but there is a practical solution here. And a majority of those crossing have skills which benefit the countries they're coming to.

[00:41:22] Isabelle Roughol: And incredible resilience when you think of what they got through to get

[00:41:25] Daniel Sohege: Yeah. I mean, it's incredible what they've been through and still so many people I speak to have hope and positivity and that's something that I think we all need at the moment.

[00:41:39] Isabelle Roughol: Thank you so much for this conversation. .

[00:41:41] Daniel Sohege: Thank you so much for having me on, it's been a pleasure.

[00:41:43] Outro

[00:41:43] Isabelle Roughol: That was Daniel Sohege, director of Stand For All. You can follow him on Twitter, and I recommend it, at stand_for_all with an underscore between each word, I'll make sure to share that in the show notes.

[00:41:59] Remember that you can support Borderline by becoming a member at borderlinepod.com. There's a brand new gorgeous landing page where you can find out more about this project and sign up to become a member, and you can also continue to find the blog, newsletter, all the content. Borderlinepod.com is your one destination.

[00:42:17] I'll talk to you next week when we'll be continuing this conversation about the current state of immigration and policy and borders, this time in the United States with Susan Cohen. She's an immigration lawyer. She was one of the people responsible for obtaining a stay of the Muslim ban when President Trump first put it into effect. She has years and years, decades of advocacy and of casework with thousands of immigrants to the United States. And we talked today actually, but you'll hear it next week, about current immigration policy, what has changed and what cannot change under the Biden administration, and more. So please tune in next week, make sure to follow the podcast on your favorite podcasting platform so you don't miss it. And borderline pod.com, again, is your one go-to to listen, and to become a member and support this podcast.

[00:43:14] Thank you so much. I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music was by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production. I'll talk to you next week.

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Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.