The government has said it is determined to prevent migrants from making the perilous journey to the UK on small boats. Why is it so difficult?
Towards the end of August 2019, ministers from the UK and France jointly pledged to make small-boat migrant crossings a “rare occurrence” by spring 2020.
When Priti Patel met her counterpart in Paris last summer, around 1,400 people had already traveled to the UK by small boat in the previous 12 months – and at least two lives had been lost.
Since then, an additional 5,500 people have taken one of the world’s busiest waterways to reach them.
The UK has spent £ 5.5million trying to end the crossovers. Why did it not work?
Stopping boats at sea
The Interior Minister said he wanted to make the route “unsustainable” and put an end to the demand by returning the boats to France.
But the French authorities believe they are unable to intervene in many cases, due to divergent interpretations of international maritime law, she added.
Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont said the most important thing was to ensure that no life was lost.
“We are talking about human beings, we are not talking about cattle,” he said.
The UN Refugee Agency said it was “troubled” by plans to intercept and return the boats, adding that the number of people making the crossing “remained low and manageable.”
“The planned deployment of large warships to deter such passages and block small, light and fragile boats can lead to harmful and fatal incidents,” he said.
Channel crossings by migrants in small boats
Number of people arriving in the UK each month since July 2019
International treaties and national laws determine what states can do at sea, said Dr Felicity Attard, senior lecturer in international maritime law at the University of Malta.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country has the right to act in its waters when confronted with an “incoming vessel carrying migrants who intend to commit a criminal offense. coastal state immigration, ”she said.
But any action must also “take into account humanitarian considerations, for example the need to protect the rights of asylum seekers”, which are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, she added.
Any force used to return migrant boats to France “can only be used as a last resort, if necessary, proportionate and justified to achieve a legitimate aim,” she said.
Ultimately, Dr Attard believes that “given the security concerns of migrants on board and international shipping, if it wishes, France would have the right to intervene.”
However, the duty to “assist and protect life at sea remains paramount,” she added.
Since January 2019, 155 people who crossed the Channel on board small boats have been returned to Europe. 166 others are due to be fired, the interior minister said last month. This represents around 6% of the 5,500 people who have visited the UK since the start of 2019.
European regulations known as ‘Dublin III’, which determine where an asylum seeker’s claim is heard, were used to ‘prevent the return of those who have no right to be here’, said the Interior Ministry.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested the government would revise laws that would make it “very difficult to send next [migrants] away again, even though they came here illegally ”.
But any new system will require the support of the EU countries to which asylum seekers are returned, said immigration lawyer Colin Yeo.
“If you want to send someone to France then you have to do it with the French agreement, you can’t just launch it on a rocket on French territory,” he said.
Without a new deal at the end of the Brexit transition period in January, the UK would “go from a situation where it is not necessarily easy to return people to EU countries, to a situation where it is impossible because there is simply no way to guarantee their agreement to accept the return of people, ”he said.
Prevent boats from leaving
Since October 2019, the UK has paid 45 French police officers to patrol the coastline. Additional officers from the French border police are also patrolling.
More than 47% of attempted crossings were prevented either at sea or before departure in 2020, according to the regional government of Calais.
Police stopped 10 times more level crossings last month than in July 2019, he said.
But, the sheer size of the 200-mile coastal strip, which is populated with quiet beaches fringed by sand dunes, makes it impossible to completely stop the boats setting sail, French officials say.
“We do a lot, but there are limits to what humans and technology can do to prevent people from achieving their dreams,” Dumont said.
The Home Office said it was pursuing “heinous criminals and organized crime networks” behind the crossings.
This year, 23 smugglers were jailed and two others were charged earlier this month.
Two men were jailed in France in December 2019 for helping organize a crossing in which Mitra Mehrad, an Iranian doctoral student in psychology, drowned off the coast of Kent.
In January, 23 people were arrested in France and the Netherlands on suspicion of smuggling 10,000 Kurdish migrants into the UK in trucks and small boats.
And yet the number of people arriving on British shores in small boats continues to increase.
Authorities believe that a reduction in freight on ferries and cross-Channel trains due to the coronavirus has led more people into the hands of smugglers organizing small boat crossings.
Steve Reynolds of the NCA told the BBC in January that there was no evidence of a single gang behind the crossings.
The agents had focused on cutting off the supply of boats and motors, but the couriers, who would charge migrants several thousand pounds per place, began to stock up on boats further afield, notably in the Netherlands. Bas and Germany, he said.
Meanwhile, some migrants are “making themselves easier”, acquiring a boat themselves and going their own way, Mr Reynolds said.
On August 6, the French rescued seven people from three kayaks, and five more inflatable kayaks could have arrived in the UK. Some of the models used can be purchased from sports retailers in France for as little as € 300 (£ 270).
Stay in France
The Interior Ministry said that instead of crossing the Channel, people should seek refuge in France, which is a “safe country with a well-functioning asylum system”.
But the UK receives only a small proportion of all asylum seekers, many of whom settle in other European countries, said Clare Moseley of Care for Calais.
“It is a misconception that all refugees want to come to the UK,” she added.
France, which has a similar population and economy to the UK, receives more than three times as many asylum applications, according to EU data.
Across the EU in 2019, the rate of asylum applications was on average 14 per 100,000 inhabitants. In the UK it was 5 per 100,000.
The government used part of the £ 5.5million spent to deter level crossings – much of which went to technologies such as CCTV and night vision goggles – to fund ‘strategic communications campaigns Aimed at dissuading people from making the crossing.
This included “sending direct messages to migrants,” the interior ministry said.
“Sometimes it works, but usually Calais is the last destination,” Ms Moseley said. “Most people who come here have decided for one reason or another to go to the UK, it’s a bit late then. ”
Many have lost family members to conflicts and wish to join surviving relatives already living in the UK, she said.
French police tactics made it more difficult to deter those gathered in Calais from traveling to the UK, she said.
Since the infamous’ Jungle ‘was cleared in 2016, small camps have been regularly evicted and the last police operation, in mid-July, was’ quite horrific’ and involved ‘a lot of violence and tear gas. “, did she say.
“People who have scars on their bodies from the French police will not want to stay in France,” she added.
The French Interior Minister has been contacted for comment.
In 2017, following a report by Human Rights Watch alleging police abuse, the then minister said officers were working in a harsh environment, stopping thousands of attempts to illegally enter the port. de Calais and the Channel Tunnel.
French refugee charities and politicians have long said the solution must be to allow potential asylum seekers to seek refuge before they arrive in Britain.
Mr Dumont called for migrants to be allowed to seek asylum at British embassies across Europe.
“What we would really like to see are safe and legal routes,” Ms. Moseley said.
She would like people to be able to apply to British border checks in Calais, rather than having to land in the UK.
“Focusing on security and deterrence does nothing more than brutalize people,” she said.