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The Migrants Crisis: The English Channel Tragedy

On November 24th, in the umpteenth tragedy linked to the migrants crisis, at least 27 people died while trying to cross the English Channel. The disaster comes after the British government has observed a new record of people crossing the Channel, surpassing the peak that was detected earlier this November. The event showed once more the weaknesses of the immigration policies within Europe and in the United Kingdom. Following the catastrophe, the Britain and France have slipped into a blame game aimed at throwing the responsibility for the humanitarian emergency to the opponent. While the French and British administrations are occupied at criticising each other, charities and human rights organizations accuse the two nations of the shortcomings in their immigration systems. In particular, advocates call for the creation of asylum routes to allow the refugees to safely cross from France to the UK. However, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has refused to implement this solution and has, instead, called for French collaboration and the constitution of “joint patrols”.

The 27 asylum seekers died while trying to reach the British shores in an inflatable boat. The accident marks the biggest loss of life in the English Channel, raising fears that the passage could become as deadly as the Mediterranean. Despite Emmanuel Macron's - the French president - declaration that "France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery", the number of people trying to reach England is steadily increasing. Indeed, in 2021 around 47.000 emigrants attempted to reach the English coast and 7.800 of them were rescued. According to the Refugee Council, the immigrants come mainly from countries crippled by war or disastrous living conditions such as Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Yemen, or Ethiopia. Therefore, human rights NGOs and organizations affirm that these data demonstrate that the majority of refugees are genuinely seeking to escape oppression.

Tim Naor Hilton, the CEO of the charity Refugee Action, declared that this tragic episode "should be an absolute watershed moment" that should work as a wake-up call for states in the face of the humanitarian crisis. He also added that the migrants "are fleeing for their safety and to try to rebuild their lives and right now what we’re seeing is those same people dying in the waters around this country which should be a total moment of national shame". However, the two main protagonists - France and the UK - are engrossed in a war of words to accuse each other.

On one side, the French president has pointed out the “shared responsibility” of the two countries and has demanded to Boris Johnson not to use the “politicisation of migrant flows for domestic gain”. Moreover, the minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, has also accused Britain of encouraging illegal migrations because of its allegedly lax welfare system and sloppy regulations on the labour market. He explained that "(E)veryone knows that there are more than a million illegal immigrants in the UK and that English employers use this workforce".

On the other side, the British administration has responded to French criticisms saying that despite their efforts, it had “difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves”. In particular, Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, has defended the UK against France requesting £54 millions to halt emigrants the UK never paid. He affirmed that the country had fulfilled its duty of assisting France in the English Channel’s migrant crisis declaring that “the French have had plenty of investment! We have lived up to our responsibilities!” and that “This is a shared responsibility".

Boris Johnson wrote a letter to Macron asking him to enhance the cooperation between the two administrations on the migrants' matter. In particular, Britain's prime minister asked for the creation of joint patrols; the use of advanced technology, like sensors and radars; reciprocal maritime patrols; intensification of the activity of the joint intelligence cell; and, work on bilateral returns agreements. However, some French policymakers have already opposed the idea of joint patrols. According to Pierre-Henri Dumont, a legislator for Calais, this method would create a "question of sovereignty. I’m not sure the British people would accept it the other way round, with the French army patrolling the British shore".

Following the disaster, charities were quick to point the finger at the two nations. Human rights organizations are urging governments to take action in face of the colder weather that will soon envelop the English Channel, making crossing even more difficult. They fear that if nothing is done, the tragedy that happened could once again take place. To prevent it from happening again, NGOs are calling for the constitution of asylum routes that will allow migrants to cross the border safely without taking the sea. Enver Solomon, the CEO of the Refugee Council, condemned the two states and said "How many tragedies like this must we see before the government fundamentally changes its approach by committing to an ambitious expansion of safe routes for those men, women and children in desperate need of protection?". The next months will be crucial to see whether the two administrations are willing to set aside their disagreements and cooperate to prevent similar humanitarian disasters.

Written by Cinzia Saro

Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.

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