Trade unions call for Safe Passage

Trade unions call for Safe Passage

Trade unions call for Safe Passage

Open letter on refugees and campaigning against racism

The continued demonisation of refugees and the dangerous rhetoric employed by senior government figures is now spreading the risk to life beyond the Channel. The disgraceful mobilisation on 10 February 2023 by the far right to terrorise refugees in Knowsley is a direct consequence of the words and actions of the government. Fascists have become emboldened. The government must change course to prevent them advancing further.

In December 2022, four people died in the English Channel whilst attempting to cross in a small boat. This tragedy occurred shortly after the anniversary of the deaths of 32 people who were attempting the same crossing.

Our thoughts are with those who lost their lives in the Channel and with their families and loved ones whose anguish will be unimaginable.  Our thanks go to those involved in the search and rescue operation, including trade union members in Border Force and the Coastguards Agency who are consistently at the sharp end of dealing with these harrowing situations.

Both tragedies were entirely avoidable. The Government has been derelict in its duty to develop a workable solution to the Channel crossings and to uphold the UK’s obligations under International Treaties.  It has let down both the victims of war and human rights abuses who come to Calais to ask for our help and it has let down our own citizens.

Firstly, it attempted to implement dangerous and unlawful pushbacks manoeuvres that had to be abandoned under the threat of a legal challenge by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and Care4Calais; secondly, it announced its intention to deport refugees to Rwanda, a brutal initiative subject to litigation which has already cost the taxpayer more than £140 million; thirdly, it announced yet another deal with the French government at a cost of £63 million to the taxpayer which is unlikely to have any discernible impact in stopping the crossings.

On 16 November 2022, PCS and Care4Calais launched a policy proposal entitled “Safe passage for refugees: humane alternative to the Rwanda policy”. This policy is a humane and effective solution to the Channel crossings. It would save the lives of innocent refugees and destroy the business model of the people smugglers in one fell swoop.

On 9 December 2022, PCS wrote to the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and the Home Office Permanent Secretary, Matthew Rycroft, calling for the adoption of the safe passage policy and for negotiations with the Home Office staff union on its implementation.

Instead of seizing that solution, on 13 December 2022, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, doubled down on the demonisation of vulnerable refugees. The folly of this approach was tragically exposed one day later with a further four deaths in the Channel.

The citizens of the UK are facing a cost-of-living crisis due to the catastrophic failure of the Government to build a society in which ordinary people prosper.  This is not an accident.  It is the result of conscious political choices that have driven down wages, cut public services to the bone and drained the economy of life. Instead of facing up to the consequences of their actions, the Government acts to criminalise refugees and make them scapegoats for the cost-of-living crisis.  In this regard, the working class in the UK and refugees coming to our shores have a common oppressor.

We should not allow the Government to divide us and we should not fall for its ruse. The UK is the sixth richest economy on the planet and can afford to take care of its own citizens and take its fair share of refugees. In fact, an aging demographic, coupled with labour shortages, means that granting asylum and enabling refugees to become productive citizens in this country will help it prosper. This must be reinforced by proper collective bargaining arrangements with trade unions across all sectors of the economy to ensure minimum standards on wages and terms and conditions. An adoption of this approach will prevent the exploitation of workers, no matter where they are from.

We call for:

  • the government to adopt the Safe Passage Policy as the solution to the Channel crossings.
  • the dismantling of the hostile environment for refugees and its replacement with an asylum system based on humanity.
  • workers in the UK and refugees to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with one another in the fight for a better future for all.

Mark Serwotka General Secretary PCS
Claire Moseley Care4Calais
Sharon Graham (Unite)
Christina McAnea (Unison)
Dave Ward (CWU)
Kevin Courtney (NEU)
Dr Jo Grady (UCU)
Matt Wrack (Fire Brigade Union)
Owen Reidy (Irish Congress of Trade Unions)
Ellie Peers (Writers’ Guild of Great Britain)
Tim Rose (Nationwide Group Staff Union)
Paul Fleming (Equity)
Gawain Little (General Federation of Trade Unions)
Mick Whelan (ASLEF)
Chris Kitchen (National Union of Mineworkers)
Michelle Stanistreet (National Union of Journalists)
Rob Monks (United Road Transport Union)
Brian Linn (AEGIS the union)
Roy Rickhuss (Community)
Zita Holbourne and Loraine Monk Joint National Chairs (Artists Union England)
Andrea Bradley (Educational Institute of Scotland)
Cath Lowther (Association of Educational Psychologists)
Sarah Woolley (BFAWU)
Naomi Pohl​ (Musicians’ Union)
Paddy Lillis (USDAW)
Peter Pendle (TSSA – Interim General Secretary)
Ged Nichols (ACCORD – signed in a personal capacity)
Steve Gillan (Prison Officers Association – signed in a personal capacity)

About Care4Calais

Care4Calais was founded by a group of volunteers with the sole aim of supporting the people of the Calais refugee camps, providing fresh meals, warm clothing, heating and important legal and medical support.

We are not politicians – we are people like you who simply believe that every human has the right to be treated in a fair and dignified way.

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