Migrant arrivals to the UK by sea via the English Channel surge after European Tunnel reinforcement

On Monday, August 22, the waters of the English Channel were especially calm. The weather encouraged a historic record of arrivals to the UK from the French coast in one day: British authorities counted 1,295 migrants, who crossed the sea in 27 improvised boats. It’s a mode of transport rarely used four years ago (in 2018, only 299 people arrived by sea), but it has become one of the main access routes to the island.

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August and September saw several days during which more than a thousand people were able to travel the 30 kilometers separating the coasts of France and England. The balance so far this year is more than 33,000 arrivals, according to figures from British Ministry of Defense Posted in early October. This number already exceeds the 28,526 entries recorded in 2021 and represents a marked increase compared to the 8,404 entries recorded in 2020.

Since the late 1990s, most migrants bound for the UK have arrived through the Channel Tunnel, hiding in trains or in the backs of trucks. However, in recent years, at the request of the British authorities, controls at this access point have been tightened. After about 2,000 people tried to cross the tunnel on foot in July 2015, authorities decided to speed up the construction of a barbed wire fence and the installation of surveillance cameras.

As a result, access through the canal tunnel is more complicated and the weight of the sea route increases. Of the 16,000 migrants who arrived on British soil in 2019, only 10% arrived by sea. The following year, nearly half arrived by boat. “The militarization of the north coast means more risks, even with departures earlier in the year, despite the high winds and the raging cold sea,” explains Margaret Coombs, coordinator of the NGO Utopia 56 in Calais. “Previously, boats departed from Sangatte, 37 kilometers from the English coast, but now we see that some departures are almost from the Gulf of the Somme, which means crossing more than 60 kilometers of sea in very dangerous conditions,” he says. .

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According to NGO records, at least 355 people have died at the sea border between France, Belgium and the United Kingdom Since 1999. 31 of them died in one day, after the ship sank on November 24, 2021. “All of these migrants suffered violent deaths directly linked to the liberation of British immigration controls on French soil (anger as they attempted to cross, explains Arnaud Banus, geographer and director of research) At the UMR IDEES Laboratory and the Institute for Migrant Convergences at the University of Le Havre in Normandy.

The researcher points out that the agreements signed between France and the United Kingdom since the eighties made the British borders move de facto to French territory. “This border authorization translates into a ban on access to ‘classic’ and safer transit routes, and in the French authorities’ struggle against the presence of illegal immigrants on the coast,” says Banos.

The coast, especially in the Calais region, increased security to prevent immigrants from reaching British territory. “When certain roads are closed, the security services do not prevent crossings, and new ones must be opened that are often longer and/or more dangerous,” summarizes Camille Martel, also a researcher at the UMR IDEES Laboratory and Le Havre University in Normandy. “This anti-land migration strategy has implications for the ability to protect life at sea,” he explains.

stricter policies

In London, the recent change of government has been accompanied by an increase in rhetoric against irregular immigration. new interior minister, Soila BravermanThis week, he said in a speech to the Conservative Party conference that he would like to prevent migrants crossing the Channel from seeking asylum in the UK. His comments were immediately cited by NGOs as a violation of several international conventions. Since 2018, people crossing the English Channel mainly come from Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Syria and Afghanistan, five countries with a high rate of international protection.

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On the French side, a parliamentary committee presented at the end of last year The results of an eight-month investigation, with hearings and field missions (including a visit to Calais). The document is an X-ray image of migration flows in France. In the North Coast case, the representatives sounded the alarm about the “scale of violations of migrants’ rights” and the failure of the strategy of “fighting anchor points.” Since the 2016 destruction of the large temporary settlement of immigrants formed in Calais, the French police. He periodically dismantles the small immigrant camps that form in the area, to prevent new gathering.

The text prepared by the deputies summarizes “not even the most horrific reception and dangerous traffic conditions.” Moreover, they point out the high cost of this approach, in terms of police officer mobilization and infrastructure security, and consider that the UK is not carrying enough of the burden. Instead, the commission recommended setting up “small aid units along the coast” to provide basic assistance to people in transit.

NGO Complaints

Although the rapporteur of the said commission was Sonia Karimi, then a deputy from Emmanuel Macron’s party (she lost her seat in the last legislative elections), her conclusions and recommendations completely contradict the current action of the government, led by the Minister of State. Inland, Gerald Darmanen, who represents the more conservative wing of the government. For example, the report defended the creation of legal immigration channels to “make travel more flexible and reduce the impact of mafias”, as well as denouncing “irrational fear conveyed by public debate” and treating the “increasingly police” question. Darmanin, for his part, advocates speeding up expulsions and shortening the processing time for asylum claims.

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In France, the Interior has had exclusive jurisdiction over immigration matters since 2007, which favors this conditional treatment and complicates the cooperation of other ministries, such as Foreign Affairs, Labor and Health. It also makes dialogue with associations trying to help migrants on the ground more difficult on many occasions. This month, 13 NGOs denounced the authorities’ difficulties in distributing food and water.

“Since the beginning of 2022, in the Calais region, the police have tried to prevent our distribution more than 20 times, both physically and verbally,” the associations explained in a statement. “That is not all: our cars have also been fined more than 1,500 euros and our volunteers have been subjected to hundreds of identity checks in the course of their activities, just to provide food and water to those in need,” they say.

Sacha Woodward

"Wannabe writer. Lifelong problem solver. Gamer. Incurable web guru. Professional music lover."

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