I'm a UK expat living in France and I've been reading the UK news, which is covering a decent number of migrants and refugees crossing the English Channel in the hopes of reaching the UK (example).

I understand these migrants are fleeing terrible warzones, but they seem to be crossing with these dinghies from Calais and various places in France. As someone who is British, I am confused as to why they wish to seek refuge in a country which recently voted to leave the European Union, especially given that immigration was one of the key reasons that many voted to Leave. The UK itself also has a long history of, and a current issue with, explicit racism and Islamophobia.

Is there any evidence that their lives would be better in the UK than in France, despite the UK's racist and narrow-minded attitude towards migrants, such as better state support or improved likelihood of receiving asylum?

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    Welcome to Politics SE! While there is a question there to be had, it's spoiled slightly with your opinions on Brexit and people who voted for it. I've edited it in a way that hopefully gets to the heart of your question without it becoming overly emotional. You may benefit from taking the tour and visiting the help center to learn more about the kinds of questions that fit well here. – Joe C Aug 11 '20 at 12:22
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    Hi, I guess you edited my question, maybe I spoke too much about Brexit but it was an example to show the underlying racism and xenophobia that runs in Britain, by editing the question you have removed my main crux, which is "Why are poor BAME,Muslim refugees risking their lives to enter a country that despises and exploit them?" Your edit has left no reference to that. – OdeToJoy Aug 11 '20 at 12:26
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    This site is NOT a discussion forum like Reddit or 4Chan or whatever, or the comments under the stories in the NY Post, and all of these comments can, and maybe should, be deleted at any time. – Michael Harvey Aug 12 '20 at 13:31

In August 2018, Refugee Rights Europe published a report entitled The Long Wait which surveyed 870 individuals living in the informal refugee camp in Calais, roughly 15% of the camp's population. Of these, 94.6% reported that they were aiming to continue on to the UK in order to seek asylum.

In total, 40% are hoping to reach the United Kingdom as they have friends and/or family there. 14% cited that they hope to reach the UK as British asylum laws are preferable to the French laws, with a number of respondents telling researchers that they fear their application would be rejected by the French authorities but potentially accepted by the British. A further 23% of respondents told researchers that they are looking for refuge in the UK because of their language skills.

Another large reason, related to language skills, appears to be aspirations for better opportunities in the UK. The survey asked respondents what they thought they would work as in the UK, and the results show a clear preference for skilled work and higher education.

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This could be another reason these roles are not sought in France, as the survey also found that English proficiency was far higher than French. Presumably, a contributing factor is that migrants' French is often insufficient to pursue these career paths.

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Finally, you have mentioned in your original question and comments that migrants may be put off by societal attitudes towards migrants. However, the survey also found that residents were afraid of 'facists/racists in Calais', as well as a fear of the French government, and especially the French police:

One of the most significant causes for concern was distrust of the French police, who many believe are “very violent” towards the camp’s inhabitants. “The French police treat us the same as Syrian police,” said one resident. Some expressed frustration at police blocking the exit from the camp at night, reporting that their “freedom has been taken”

In fact, more respondents were afraid of the French government than the British - 44.7% felt 'a lot of fear' towards the French government, compared to 12.2% towards the British.

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Admittedly, the fieldwork for this report was conducted in February 2016, before the Brexit referendum. However, the two follow-up reports, Still Waiting and Still Here, which were conducted after the Brexit vote, exhibit similar responses. For example, 73% of adults and 75% of minors thought that the UK was the 'best country in Europe for them'.

In particular, on the issue of Brexit, respondents were asked in Still Here whether they had heard of the vote. Approximately two-thirds of respondents had. Of these, almost twice as many respondents thought that the vote would affect them in a positive way (29%), rather than a negative way (16%).

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    Comments deleted. This is not the place to debate which country has the most racist police force. – Philipp Aug 11 '20 at 15:02
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    "...they fear their application would be rejected by the French authorities but potentially accepted by the British..." They must have been reading the Daily Mail. – Paul Johnson Aug 11 '20 at 18:03
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    Whoever downvoted this excellent and documented answer should explain why, and how it can be impoved, in comments. – Evargalo Aug 12 '20 at 7:54

Life as an illegal immigrant is hard everywhere, in UK as well as in France: you know (almost) nobody, you understand and speak more or less of the language, you are not allowed to work nor to rent a flat, you fear arrest and possibly extradition, sometimes you are in physical danger from outlaws or gangs, you are not accustomed to the climate...

That's why anything that can help is welcome: if you have a distant relative, if you speak the local language, if you know anyone who might provide you some undeclared job, if law gives you better chances to get asylum...

For many immigrants, say, French-speaking western Africans, Paris is the best shot: that's why after arriving by boat to Italy they try to cross the border to France. For others, however, London is the better chance: Afghans, Sudaneses, Somalis, Pakistaneses or Bengladis most often speak English and not French, and will try to get support from accointances in the local communities from their (former) homeland. For many people stuck at Calais or Grande-Synthe, life prospects in UK may not be brillant, but they just have nothing to hope for in France.

Each individual trajectory can be influenced in many ways, but as a general rule we can notice that immigrants will actually most often try to resettle in the country which colonized their homeland until the 20th century.

  • If they actually make their claim for asylum (assuming it is a genuine claim), then they have nothing to fear from the French authorities. In fact, the authorities are obliged to consider the claim - and in the meantime, provide food and shelter. The fact that they refuse to make an asylum claim in France (a safe country) demonstrates that their journey isn't so much about genuinely saving their lives; but more about "shopping around" for the country they prefer. – Chris Melville Aug 26 '20 at 11:04
  • @ChrisMelville : you can post you own answer if you believe so. I don't have the figures, but I remember reading that many migrants in Calais actually had made an asylum seaker demand in France (or Belgium), but the answer had been awaited for for months or had came negative. Others might believe they have better chances for their demand to be accepted in UK. Others might just not be well informed about administrative demands, lack their own identity papers, or come from a country which is considered 'safe' by France - making it reject 100% of the asylum demands for its nationals. – Evargalo Aug 27 '20 at 8:12

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