For UK-based viewers, the Newsnight episode is available on BBC IPlayer. The piece was introduced by Emily Maitlis and presented by BBC Economics editor Ben Chu. I was interviewed for the piece in the afternoon, we spoke for about 25 minutes, the line of questioning was inquisitive, but not confrontational. 25 minutes were distilled to 1 minute on screen , but a lot of the interview fed into the piece anyway, from the closure of more established routes for migration during the pandemic, to the fading impact of the pandemic on international travels and therefore also on the mobility of migrants and refugees, and the emergence from the fog of Covid-19 of the reality of post-Brexit border politics. One point I was keen on in our conversation that I think Ben Chu conveyed really well was that, while is unquestionable that irregular crossings have increased in the last year, the overall number of asylum applications is still well below pre-pandemic times. The two ‘facts’ are connected and we can’t understand what is going on only paying attention to half of the story. Another point I was keen to convey is that there are far more asylum seekers reaching Germany, France, Spain and Italy that the UK at the moment (as in recent years), and, interestingly, the main countries of origin in the UK are different from those on continental Europe (which makes comparing asylum success rates pretty meaningless).
As during the Mediterranean’s border crisis of 2015-16, in the narratives of the two current “migration crises”, which in truth are hardly comparable for size to the previous one, numbers and percentages are crucial to establish a specific narrative, for example, the statements that in the second quarter of 2021 700 people applied for asylum in Poland and that the number of asylum applications increased by %750 from the same period in 2020 are both true but they clearly serve different migration agendas.
We also discussed the length of asylum decision making in the UK. Priti Patel was asked about it yesterday in an Oral Question session in Parliament. It takes now much longer than five years ago for an asylum case to be decided. In 2014% 87% of asylum applications were decided in less than 6 months, MP Andrew Gwynne pointed. However now only roughly 20% of the applications are decided in less than 6 months now. The case backlog is getting longer and longer, as the waiting time for applicants. In response to the question, Priti Patel blamed Covid-19. Nobody can object to Covid-19 as an excuse, she probably thought. Unfortunately for her, the decision time on asylum cases got worst well before Covid-19 according to Home Office‘s own figures.