Sputnik: Why are so many boats setting off for the coast of Kent?
Jenny Phillimore: Compared to what's been happening in the Mediterranean, these numbers are absolutely tiny. So I don't think the words ‘so many' really reflect the actual situation here; and given there are so few kind of regular routes into the UK, it was inevitable that sooner or later someone would start doing this. So I am not at all surprised. I am rather surprised it has taken this long. It's something new, yes, and it's happening on boats, but not in vast numbers like it happened in the Mediterranean — and to be fair, there still aren't vast numbers. But, yes, there does seem to be a move in this direction.
Sputnik: What can be done to stop people from undertaking such a high-risk journey?
Jenny Phillimore: I think it's quite difficult to stop people, you know, when they're desperate they're weighing up their options and maybe this seems like a better option than doing nothing or staying put. So I am not sure it's possible to stop people unless you give them a different route.
The problem is that there is no way that they can claim asylum, i.e. have their asylum claims looked at unless they can set foot on the shore of the UK. I mean, the only way to do it would be to give them a way that they could make these claims without coming to the UK — or that might be something that could potentially help.
Sputnik: Why are most of the migrants apparently from Iran?
Jenny Phillimore: It's quite a complex situation. If people are making a free choice, and they are choosing to come to the UK despite all the risks, then they do that because generally, they have friends or family around who could support them. Alternatively, it could be — and it has been suggested — that the reason this has started is because there are Iranians who have entered the continent of Europe through Serbia, and made their way across land.
They are not without resources, they are not particularly poor, and they are paying people smugglers. People smugglers just put them where they want them to be, because they think they will make more money this way. This is a new phenomenon, and until someone actually talks to them and finds out what's going on, it's quite hard to know.
Sputnik: Could you please describe in more detail the link between Serbia and Iran?
Jenny Phillimore: My understanding is that Serbia has opened its borders to Iran in the hope of bringing Iranian money in for tourism — obviously Serbia is rebuilding itself after many traumatic years. So I understand that Iranians have been flying to the country, some of them are there on holiday, but others are escaping the repressive regime — particularly young people, who want to live a more free life, and enjoy music and the freedoms we enjoy. They are coming across perhaps with the support of their parents, certainly, with some amounts of money — more than you see in the average asylum seeker — and of course Serbia is one gateway into Europe.
Yes, you have got to get through borders, but it's obviously a lot easier to come into the continent of Europe without having to apply for a visa; because if they applied for a visa to come and visit the UK, chances are their visa request would be denied on the basis that they would likely to overstay and become asylum seekers. When people are desperate, they do innovate, they do try and find a way to resolve their problems, and inevitably there'll be people trying all kind of things. New routes are opening all the time, and I think Serbia has probably helped that to happen.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.