Human rights groups and charities on Tuesday called on the British government to provide safer routes for refugees and migrants crossing the English Channel as the number of people making their way to the UK in 2021 trebled.
Refugee charities have said that government policy towards migrants and refugees crossing the channel is harsh and risked more deaths at sea.
November 2021 saw 27 people, including a seven-year-old boy and a pregnant woman, drown in the channel, the worst tragedy in the channel’s history.
“This government must change its approach and instead of seeking to punish or push away people seeking safety because of the type of journey they have made to the UK, they must create and commit to safe routes,” said Enver Soloman, chief executive of the Refugee Council.
According to the Refugee Council, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and Care4Calais, more people crossed the Channel in 2021 than in 2020.
The number of people crossing France into the UK has increased despite the UK’s exit from the EU and Home Secretary Priti Patel investing millions of pounds on implementing new measures to deter the crossings, including the use of force to turn away refugees and migrants.
“The government tells us that people should travel by legal means but if this were truly possible, why would so many be risking their lives in flimsy boats?” said Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, an organization that aids refugees in the port city of Calais in northern France.
According to the Press Association, a total of 28,395 people arrived on the shores of the UK via small boats in 2021. This number significantly increased in November when a further 6,869 people entered the UK.
Although the Home Office compiles its own data and analysis regarding the number of people and crossings, it has not released any data on the latter. Instead, it has said that the new nationality and borders bill will prevent people from entering the UK illegally and thus deter people trafficking.
“Seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel,” said a Home Office statement.
“The nationality and borders bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country. It will also strengthen the powers of Border Force to stop and redirect vessels, while introducing new powers to remove asylum seekers to have their claims processed outside the UK,” the statement added.
The government’s approach, according to the organizations, is counterproductive and forces more people into the hands of people traffickers and smugglers, making the journey to the UK deadly.
“What’s changed is that safe routes to get here – like family reunion routes and the Syrian resettlement scheme – have completely shut down, forcing more people into the hands of people traffickers to get here,” said Minnie Rahman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.