London: Indians have allegedly become the third-largest group of migrants entering UK shores illegally across the English Channel on dangerous small boats, according to a UK media report quoting Home Office sources on Friday.
‘The Times’ newspaper reports that Home Office officials believe Indian students are using a loophole in the rules that allows asylum seekers to study in the UK and pay much lower domestic, rather than international fees.
It reports that about 250 Indian migrants have made the dangerous crossing in small boats this year alone, more than 233 who crossed the Channel in the last year – making them the third largest cohort after Afghans and Syrians.
“One theory being pursued is Serbia’s visa-free travel rules for Indians, which Home Office officials believe is providing a gateway into Europe,” the report claims.
“Until the end of last year, all Indian passport holders were able to enter Serbia without a visa for up to 30 days. Home Office officials believe the arrangement, which ended on January 1 as part of Serbia’s efforts to align with EU (European Union) visa policies, led to some Indians travelling onward into the EU and subsequently to the UK in small boats,” it claims.
According to official Home Office statistics published in early November last year for these illegal Channel crossings in the first six months of 2022, over half (51 per cent) of small boat arrivals were from three nationalities – Albanian (18 per cent), Afghan (18 per cent) and Iranian (15 per cent).
Indians have not been among the nationalities referenced in official statistics of this illegal route so far.
“This is very disturbing to hear and is the first the NISAU (National Indian Students and Alumni Union) has heard of such an act,” said Sanam Arora, chair of the Indian student representative organisation in the UK.
“Indian students are law-abiding, meritorious and very hard-working and we are worried that such isolated incidents, if true, can reflect badly on the whole community. Indian students who have studied in the UK are trailblazers who are setting the future of the India-UK relationship. We’d like to understand details of who these immigrants are and what their motivations for entering the UK in this manner are…no student should ever abuse the UK’s visa system,” she said.
While the UK Home Office declined to comment specifically on the media report quoting sources, a government spokesperson told PTI that the UK’s Migration and Mobility Partnership (MMP) with India are aimed at accelerating the removals of any illegal migrants.
“Our migration deal with India aims to enhance and accelerate the removal of Indian nationals with no right to stay in the UK and secure greater cooperation around organised immigration crime,” the spokesperson said.
“The global migration crisis continues to place an unprecedented strain on our asylum system. This is why we are going to introduce legislation which will ensure that people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and removed to another country,” the spokesperson added.
Tackling the problem of illegal small boat crossings across the English Channel is among the top government priorities set by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The Home Office said its Small Boats Operational Command (SBOC) will oversee operational activity with neighbouring France to disrupt such crossings, save lives at sea and ensure the effective processing of arrivals in the UK.