London, UK. Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Kalker
London, UK. Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Kalker

With Britain separating from the European Union, InfoMigrants takes a closer look at how migrants wishing to settle in the UK will be affected.

After years of wrangling, Britain is finally separating from the EU on January 1, 2021. As the 12-month transition period comes to an end, so will all the EU-rules that have previously applied in the UK.

Although a last-minute trade agreement was struck between London and Brussels on December 24, the details of this deal, and how it will affect migrants wishing to settle in the UK, are not yet fully known.

InfoMigrants has taken a look at what we know so far, and the main changes we can expect.

Dublin III Regulation will no longer apply in the UK

The Dublin III Regulation, which establishes which European nation is responsible for examining an asylum request, will no longer be applied in the UK. Under the Dublin accord, member states can request another EU country to take charge of a person’s asylum application. Usually, the first country of entry into the EU is the state that is responsible for processing a person’s asylum application.

After Brexit comes into effect, Dublin III will need to be replaced with a new accord between the UK and EU, but such an agreement has yet to be drawn up. For the time being, this means that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Britain’s handling of asylum seekers arriving in the country, and it is likely to remain unclear for several months.

The British government has said that if it doesn’t manage to reach a new agreement with the EU, it will negotiate bilateral agreements with individual countries.

• Stricter rules on family reunions

As British law will also replace the Dublin accord’s rules on family reunions, it will become more difficult to join family members already living in the UK.

Dublin III allowed asylum seekers to apply for protection in the UK if they were reuniting with a spouse or a child – regardless of whether that person was a British citizen, a refugee, a resident or an asylum seeker. It also allowed unaccompanied minors to enter the UK if they could prove they were reuniting with a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt.

Under British law, the rules on family reunions will change. As of January 1, the UK will only grant such reunions if the person already living in the UK has refugee- or subsidiary protection status. Unaccompanied minors will only be able to reunite with parents.

"Without the Dublin regulation, more than 95 percent of the migrants we have helped in the past few years wouldn’t have been able to reunite with their families in the United Kingdom," says Marie-Charlotte Fabié, director of the NGO Safe Passage International, which works with asylum seekers in Greece, France and Britain.

"This will put an end to the only legal and secure route to seek asylum in the UK from the European Union. Potentially for months now, there won’t be any real alternatives to the dangerous sea crossings, smugglers and [other] crime" in order to enter the UK, Fabié says.

Few direct implications for non-European migrants

For non-European migrants, Brexit will have few direct implications, Alexander Betts, a professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs at the University of Oxford, told InfoMigrants in a 2018 interview.

Since the UK – even before Brexit – has always wanted to maintain its own borders, it has been freer than other European nations to decide on what EU migration policies to adhere to or not. One example of that is its non-participation in Schengen, which has resulted in the UK receiving a rather low number of asylum seekers compared to many other EU countries. This will not change after January 1.

European migrants will be the most affected by Brexit, especially those who want to settle down and work in the UK. Low-skilled European migrants can therefore expect it to become much harder to be granted entry.

• Refugee protection remains in force

Britain’s EU-divorce will not change the fact that the UK remains a signatory of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees. Under the convention, signatories cannot return a refugee to a country where his or her freedom is under threat.

• No great changes to migrants in irregular situations in Calais

For migrants who are trying to make their way to Britain illegally from Calais, there are no great changes to expect. The border between France and Britain remains protected by the Touquet agreements, which won’t be affected by Brexit. The Touquet agreements prevent non-EU nationals from entering non-Schengen countries without a visa.

In the approach to January 1, security has been stepped up in the Calais region, and surveillance has been increased for UK-bound traffic.


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