Boat People

More than a thousand people, men, women, children and babies, have crossed the English Channel from France in small boats in recent weeks. Politicians refer to them as immigrants. The activists who support them call them refugees. In a single day, Monday, September 6, a warm breeze from the east blew and floated on calm seas, 785 of them managed to cross, according to the border force of the Interior Ministry.

Several boats reached the local waters of Rye and Eastbourne Bay to be “intercepted” or “rescued” by RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Foundation) boats, including the local Hastings lifeboat. Others seem to have reached shore unaccompanied. An AFP report quoted an anonymous witness in Dungeness as saying that the border force “could not keep up” with the number of arrivals. “I found five sitting on the beach the other morning; they had burned their cell phones in a fire … You used to carry a full boat every now and then. Now you look at three, four, five, if not more, in one day.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the agents who organized these ships laden with human cargo in Parliament last week as “criminal minds” engaged in “despicable trade” that takes money from “desperate and scared people” to carry them. to a “very, very dangerous” journey. .

Tide of refugees

Illegal boat crossings by would-be migrants have been a feature of canal life for several decades, gradually increasing with the influx of refugees from wars and oppressive regimes in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other parts of Europe. continental. But with freedom of movement between the UK and France restricted by Brexit, Home Secretary Priti Patel is trying to find more aggressive ways to combat it.

In August 2020, Dan O’Mahony appointed a former Royal Navy and National Crime Agency officer as Commander of Threats in the Secret Canal with primary responsibility, he stated, of “making the canal’s path impassable for small boats “. He had to cooperate closely with the French to adopt “stricter enforcement measures”, including interceptions at sea and the direct return of ships.

It was alleged that France subsequently doubled the number of officers deployed daily to the French shores, purchased more sophisticated surveillance technologies, and doubled the number of successful interceptions. But this was clearly not enough. In July this year, Ms Patel signed a “cooperation” agreement with French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. The UK will provide a £ 54.2 million financial package. France will double the number of police patrols on potential emerging beaches between Boulogne and Dunkirk, expand patrols to the southwest, including around Dieppe, and strengthen surveillance in outlying areas.

Turn around

Less than two months later, intergovernmental relations deteriorated. Patel warned his French counterpart last week that the money could be withheld if no more ships were intercepted. He also stated that under certain circumstances and subject to his consent, British Border Patrol ships could force ships carrying migrants to turn around the Channel, leaving them to be intercepted by the French Coast Guard in their territorial waters. . According to a BBC report, a Border Force team has been training for months to initiate such operations.

The French Interior Ministry responded that such movements would violate international maritime law, according to which people at risk of losing their lives at sea must be saved. He also warned that there would be “consequences” if Britain refused to hand over the money.

Pierre-Henri Dumont, a member of the French Parliament from Calais, complained: “We are just doing our job and trying to save lives on the Canal and make sure it doesn’t become a graveyard. The UK needs to address the reasons why. that people want to seek asylum in the UK. Many of these people are from the former British colonies. ”

In all of this, the people who made successful crosses, as opposed to the “merchants” who made it possible, received no sanction. They are treated as victims whose method of access, while illegal and dangerous, is often overlooked in practice.

Bill in Parliament

This will no longer be the case if the Citizenship and Borders Bill currently being debated in Parliament is passed. Among its provisions is one that criminalizes intentional access to the UK without permission. This means, in effect, the dispossession of the right of asylum. Any adult who arrives illegally will risk being held indefinitely in a group reception center, deported or sent to a detention center abroad and can be sentenced to prison for up to four years.

Critics argue that this contravenes the UK’s obligations under international law and weakens the protections available to people fleeing torture and persecution. The 1951 Refugee Convention specifically protects asylum seekers from being rejected by their method of entry, as for many people during the journey there is no viable way to obtain permission to enter a country to seek asylum.

However, Hastings MP and Ray Sally Ann Hart supported the bill in Parliament. She says many voters have written to her for several months, concerned about the growing number of “illegal” canal crossings, and that the bill’s main goals are to dismantle smuggling gangs, while increasing “safe” ways. and legal “for refugees to arrive in the UK.

The Hastings Sanctuary Society (HCoS) is campaigning against him. Pal Lustra, a member of the Human Services Committee and a member of Amnesty International, describes Ms. Hart’s stated goals as “a lie … Nothing in this bill will do any of these things. Instead, the provisions of this bill anti-refugee law “To demonize people who seek protection and safety in this country. Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. But this bill would make seeking asylum without consent to enter illegal and considered a crime. “