Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 1 November 2020

UK-bound asylum seekers flee home country hardships and repression

Asylum seekers and migrants risking their lives crossing the English Channel for a new life in Britain hail from Iran, Iraq and Syria among other troubled countries

A large increase in migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross the English Channel from France has sparked safety fears in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and started a heated debate about migration.

Since Thursday, more than 600 people have been intercepted crossing the Channel. The highest number of attempted crossings in a single day so far has been 235, last Thursday. A record high number of children arrived on Friday with 23 youngsters taken into local authority care after their rescue. The figure for all of July was 70 children.

More than 4,000 people are estimated to have made the crossing this year, although the UK Home Office does not publish a running total.

A UK Border Force officer processes a migrant, believed to have been picked up from a boat in the Channel, at the port of Dover. AFP
A UK Border Force officer processes a migrant, believed to have been picked up from a boat in the Channel, at the port of Dover. AFP

The number of people returned from Britain since January 2019 stands at 155.

In the first three months of 2020 there were 463 migrants intercepted crossing the Channel, and during that time most people intercepted were from Iran (266), Iraq (119) and Syria (47).

While the near decade long Syria conflict has forced millions to flee, Iraq and Iran are not war-zones. However, millions of Iraqis are still living in the shattered remains of the war against ISIS and thousands of Iranians are fleeing persecution and economic desperation.

Here's an overview of why people are fleeing:


Protesting has “dramatically increased” in recent months as Iran faces ever tougher sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.

Only last month Iranian authorities cut internet access in Khuzestan province and deployed security forces in several cities before fresh anti-government protests broke out against the regime on Thursday.

Security forces fired teargas on protesters in Behbahan city. Videos posted on social media from inside Iran showed protesters chanting: "Fear not, fear not, we are in this together."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in June that the country faces its toughest year with sanctions and Covid-19 casing economic devastation.

International monitors also highlight state repression on everything from freedom of expression to academic freedom to religious freedoms and point to the draconian state security agencies and arbitrary detention.


Oil-rich Iraq, with a population of 37 million people, has not recovered from years of war and dictatorship.

Since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, successive governments have failed to bring stability to the country.

As violence continues, the economy has failed to revive, creating hardships amid a lack of services such as electricity and water.

In July, as temperatures peaked at 51.7°C, protesters rallied in the streets against power shortages.

“Starting in October 2019 security forces have responded to protests in Baghdad and other cities with excessive force, killing hundreds,” Human Rights Watch reported.

“Other violations of freedom of assembly and expression and women’s rights persisted, as well as the right to water.”

Territory was taken back from ISIS in a grinding, bloody campaign but it left shattered cities, a huge civilian and military death toll and tens of thousands remain displaced three years on.

Iraq ranks 17th on the Fragile States Index.


The regime of President Bashar Al Assad has clung on through eight years of war in Syria. The present is dangerous and the future uncertain.

Syria is also enduring an economic meltdown that has left citizens hungry and impoverished.

Three other factors are weighing heavily on Syria and its people – Lebanon’s economic collapse – even before the explosion that tore apart Beirut – the coronavirus pandemic and new US sanctions.

Updated: August 12, 2020 09:52 AM

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