This is a disaster waiting to happen and the curliest thing, it will result in some innocents death.
Priti Patel has been accused of “putting lives at risk” with a hardline plan to turn back migrant boats towards France.
The Home Secretary has authorised Border Force to “push back” vessels carrying desperate people across the Channel, it’s understood.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “Turning boats around at sea in the world’s busiest shipping channel is dangerous and risks lives.
“The home secretary has failed to tackle the vile criminal gangs who are profiting from people smuggling and this should be her focus, along with securing an effective deal with France and safe and legal routes.
“That she is even considering these dangerous proposals shows how badly she has lost control of this situation.”
A Whitehall source insisted people were already dying making the dangerous crossing, and the point of pushback is to deter those people from taking to dinghies in the first place.
It is thought the extreme tactics will only be used in limited circumstances – but they have enraged human rights groups and the French government.
France has called plans to turn back migrants attempting to cross the Channel “financial blackmail” and insisted the UK must honour its commitments.
In a tweet, interior minister Gerald Darmanin said France “will not accept any practice that goes against maritime law, nor financial blackmail”.
In a separate letter leaked to the British media, he said that forcing boats back to the French coast would be dangerous and insisted that “safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy”.
Paris and London announced in July that the UK would pay France €62.7 million in 2021-2022 to clamp down on illegal immigration via the English Channel. The money was to go towards doubling the numbers of officers patrolling the coast and increasing technology and vehicles to boost surveillance.
According to the Home Office, the cooperation between the two countries has so far prevented more than 10,000 migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing. The Joint Intelligence cell created in July 2020 has also enabled nearly 300 arrests relating to small boat criminality and the seizing of nearly 400 small boat related equipment by French authorities which have led to 65 convictions.
But a recent bout of good weather has led thousands of migrants to land on beaches in southeast England, including 785 on Monday alone.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, UK authorities had to rescue or intercept a total of 757 people in the English Channel during 26 events, while French authorities intercepted 628 people in 17 separate events.
More than 12,000 have made the crossing this year, according to Britain’s Press Association news agency. In 2020, about 8,500 people made the journey, and several died in the attempt.
Dan O’Mahoney, Britain’s Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, said that “this unacceptable rise in dangerous crossings is being driven by criminal gangs and a surge in illegal migration across Europe”.
“But there is more to do. The Government’s New Plan for Immigration is the only credible way to fix the broken asylum system, breaking the business model of criminal gangs and welcoming people through safe and legal routes,” he added.
The draft bill will increase jail time for people illegally entering the country and see asylum seekers’ claims rejected if they entered the UK via a “safe country” such as France.
NGOs have slammed the proposals as “inhumane”. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) warned that it is based on a “discriminatory two-tiered system” and that it would weaken protections for asylum seekers and refugees.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said:
“The government’s pushback plan is senseless, dangerous and almost certainly unlawful.
Intercepting vessels in the Channel is incredibly high risk and to push people back will endanger their lives, which is totally at odds with the legal duty of rescue at sea.
People have every right to seek asylum in the UK, and they only make dangerous journeys and rely on smugglers because there are no safe alternatives made available to them.”
Tim Naor Hilton, Refugee Action’s chief executive, said:
“Resorting to cowardly, extreme and illegal pushbacks shows government policy has always been about bullying refugees to score political points rather than breaking up smuggling gangs.
We all want the boats to stop but this plan massively increases the chances of families drowning at sea.
And Alex Fraser, UK director of refugee support and restoring family links at the British Red Cross, said:
The focus of any interventions in the Channel, first and foremost, should be on protecting lives.
We’re concerned that a policy to turn back people already on the water will at best detract from finding solutions that will create alternatives to people taking dangerous journeys, and at worst could make already treacherous journeys even more perilous.
Crossing the Channel in a small boat is only ever a desperate last resort, and an extremely dangerous one. When people’s lives are in danger they need help, compassion and humanity, not to have their ordeal extended.”
The EU are no different
EU border policies have turned the sea into a refugee graveyard, civil migrant rescue fleet charges
Oxfam slams shameful European Parliament vote against search and rescue
The European Parliament failed to commit to protecting human life in the Mediterranean.
In Nov. 2019 MEPs actively voted to maintain a ‘fortress Europe’ status quo that has seen thousands of men, women and children drown simply for seeking sanctuary.
“While the EU wax lyrical about the ‘four freedoms’ of the EU, including the freedom of movement, they are ready to side with their right-wing EU colleagues to ensure these values don’t extend to those fleeing destitution, war and persecution.”
The collection of EU ruling far-right and mainstream conservative parties defeated the plans to pressure member states to step-up their efforts in saving people’s lives it did not as far anything other than the right thing to do.
The resolution in full called on the “EU Member States to enhance proactive search and rescue operations by providing sufficient vessels and equipment specifically dedicated to search and rescue operations and personnel, along the routes where they can make an effective contribution to the preservation of lives” and “to step up their efforts in support of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean”.
The EU’s legislature narrowly defeated the motion by 290 votes against to 288 in favour.
EU search and rescue operations have been downgraded and de-funded in recent years as European government policies towards refugees have hardened. Some governments, like Italy’s, have even waged a campaign to try to stop NGOs rescuing drowning migrants with their own resources.
Around 18,000 people have died in the Mediterranean since 2014, according to figures released by the UN’s International Organisation for Migration at the start of the month – most of them people trying to make the crossing to Europe.