LONDON – The UK government seeks to deter asylum seekers from crossing the Channel by making irregular migration a criminal offense, as large numbers of migrants continue to cross the sea from France to Britain in de small boats.
The migrants come from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Most flee conflict or poverty.
At its narrowest point, the English Channel is 30 kilometers wide. Migrants typically travel in overcrowded rubber dinghies on the world’s busiest seaway. British and French intelligence services say the crossings are coordinated by smuggling networks, who charge around $ 3,000 per person.
French police patrol the coast to intercept migrants, but believe that the coastline is too large to prevent all departures. Once in UK waters, migrants must be brought ashore under international law.
Last month, 430 people made the crossing in one day. The total for 2021 so far stands at around 8,500, according to data from PA Media, formerly the Press Association, which was collated from government statistics. This number is higher than in 2020, when 8,461 people crossed the sea.
Speaking in parliament last month, Interior Minister Priti Patel said the government would take action to stop migration.
“We are currently seeing that human trafficking, smugglers, criminal gangs are exploiting our asylum system to bring in economic migrants and people who, quite frankly, are bypassing our legal migration routes, coming to our country illegally.” , she told lawmakers the last time. month.
âIt’s an evolving situation. The number of migrants attempting these crossings from France has increased considerably, âshe said.
However, critics say the number of migrants arriving is by no means abnormal. Bridget Chapman is from the Kent Refuge Action Network, which supports migrants arriving across the Channel. âWhile there is a keen sense of an increase in the number of people crossing the Channel, in fact the overall numbers are going down, it’s just that the method has changed,â Chapman told VOA. âThe British government spent millions fortifying the port around Calais (in France) to make it harder for people to arrive by truck, so people switched to small boats. But the point is that you are crossing La Manche in a boat, or locked in an airtight refrigerated truck, or hooked to the axle of a heavy goods vehicle, it is a dangerous crossing and the mode of arrival does not matter.
“What matters is that people have the right to seek asylum in the country of their choice, a relatively small number of people want to come to the UK, and we need to find a better way to deal with this situation. so that no one feels like they have “no choice but to risk their life.” Ways to do so could and should include increasing the number of people accepted through resettlement routes and the option of a humanitarian visa, meaning that asylum seekers could cross the Channel on a regular and safe basis. Chapman added.
The surge in arrivals has drawn the revered British sea rescue charity, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), into controversy. Critics accuse the charity of providing “taxi service” to Britain. The RNLI defended its actions.
âWhen our lifeboats are launched, we operate under international maritime law, which states that we are allowed, and even obligated, to enter all waters, regardless of territory, for search and rescue purposes. . And when it comes to rescuing those people who are trying to cross the Channel, we don’t ask ourselves why they got in trouble, who they are or where they come from. All we need to know is that they need our help, âRNLI CEO Mark Dowie said in a statement last month.
The government maintains that migrants should seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, rather than going to Britain. His bill would sentence migrants who enter Britain without permission to up to four years in prison.
Bridget Chapman of the Kent Refugee Action Network said retaliation would not deter migrants.
âIt goes against international law, you know. The Geneva Convention states that people have the right to seek asylum, and this can be in any country of their choice. He feels very deliberately punitive. It sounds like the clatter of a saber. It sounds like a lot of tough talking to make people feel the UK is not a welcoming place. The point is, it won’t stop people from coming, âshe told VOA.
A committee of British lawmakers last week condemned the living conditions of newly arrived migrants in the port of Dover. During a visit to a migrant reception center, women with babies and very young children were seen sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor.
Meanwhile, Britain gave France $ 75 million to bolster police in northern France to try to intercept migrants, in addition to the $ 39 million it gave the last year.
France called on the European Union to carry out reconnaissance flights over the Channel.