The incessant flow of migrants crossing the English Channel these days in increasingly precarious boats has triggered the tension between Paris and London.
According to the British Home Office, so far in 2021 there have been more of 14.000 Arrivals to the British coasts through the strait that separates them from France, exceeding the figures for all of 2020.
This week alone, more than 1,500 people crossed the canal. And at the end of August there was a record of more than 828 migrants in a single day.
“The numbers are unacceptable, so we are acting on all fronts,” Commander Dan O’Mahoney, responsible for monitoring the waters that separate France from Great Britain, said in August.
“Law enforcement agencies are dismantling human trafficking gangs [que suelen operar el cruce del canal]. Joint work with the French has doubled the number of police officers on French beaches, “he added.
But that collaboration has turned into a dispute.
Why are there more migrants crossing the canal?
“There are several reasons that explain the increase in migrants crossing the canal,” Peter Walsh, a researcher at the Oxford University Migration Observatory, tells BBC Mundo, who works analyzing data from the Ministry of the Interior, the United Nations and asylum seekers. in the United Kingdom.
“The root of the problem is geopolitics. Most of the migrants come from Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Sudan, countries in conflict where there are wars and political persecution. “
“Seasonal variation [el aumento de las temperaturas] is another explanation: the figure increases when the sea is calm and the sky is clear (as has happened in the last days and weeks) “.
Walsh adds that land routes are increasingly “unviable” for the crossing of migrants because they are increasingly guarded. Added to that are restrictions during the pandemic and with Brexit.
On Thursday, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she wants to allow the UK Border Force to push back the boats carrying migrants through the English Channel in certain circumstances.
English government sources confirmed to the BBC that a Border Force team has been training for months to begin the operation.
This tactic of “backing up” boats means that the British Border Force would force migrant boats to turn around in the Channel. Then it would be up to the French coast guard to intercept the migrant boats in their territorial waters.
However, France opposes the plan.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that “Safeguarding human lives at sea is a priority”.
Darmanin also accused the UK of “financial blackmail”.
He was referring to a deal sealed earlier this year, in which the British promised to pay France more than $ 75 million for extraordinary operations, such as doubling the number of coastal patrols.
Patel warned that the UK could withhold that money unless more vessels are intercepted.
But can migrant boats be returned?
Government lawyers say that returning ships crossing the canal would be legal in limited and specific circumstances, although they did not confirm which ones.
UK authorities would not be able to enter French territorial waters without their consent, which could cause problems, Professor Andrew Serdy, an expert on maritime law, told the BBC.
“If France does not want to turn back the ships, I dont know the can force to do it“Serdy explained.
Walsh says it is not very clear how that policy would be implemented because France’s cooperation is needed. “Without that cooperation it is very difficult to imagine how the vessels can be returned,” said the analyst.
It is also unclear whether the UK tactic would be legal under international law.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries are obliged to “render assistance to anyone at sea in danger of being lost.”
Under international law, the UK should determine the risks each migrant faces on a boat before forcing it out of the water, James Turner, a lawyer specializing in maritime disputes, told the BBC.
“Death in the water”
The tactic of pushing back ships has never been used in the English Channel before, but has been used in the Mediterranean, said the Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents border, immigration and customs personnel.
Lucy Moreton of the ISU said she would be “very surprised” if the UK ends up using it, describing the tactic as “death in water”.
“There are, understandably, many limitations, and you can’t do that with none embarkationfrom the make it vulnerable“.
Many migrants from these “vulnerable” vessels are rescued by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a non-profit organization operating off the coasts of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
“We will always come to the aid of those who have problems at sea, as we have done since our founding in 1824. We will continue to launch [rescates] when entrusted to us by the British Coast Guard, which initiates and coordinates the search and rescue, “a spokesman for the organization told BBC Mundo.
“When we launch our lifeboats, we operate under international maritime law, which states that we are permitted, and are in fact obligated, to enter all waters, regardless of territories, for search and rescue purposes.”
“And when it comes to rescuing people trying to cross the English Channel, we do not question why they had problems, who they are or where they come from. All we need to know is that they need our help. “
What happens to migrants who cross the English Channel?
- If they are in UK national waters, they will likely be taken to a British port.
- If they are in international waters, the UK will work with the French authorities to decide where to take them.
- Every country has search and rescue zones.
- An EU law called Dublin III allows asylum seekers to be transferred back to the first member state they were found to have entered, but the UK is no longer a party to this agreement and has not agreed to a new one to replace it.
Patel met with his French counterpart on Wednesday to discuss the immigration crisis, but they were unable to reach an agreement.
In a tweet, the British minister said the talks were constructive. “I made it clear that achieving results and stopping crossovers [del canal] they were a top priority for the British people, “he declared.
But Darmanin said employing change-over tactics “would run the risk of negatively impacting our cooperation.”
The French MP for Calais, Pierre-Henri Dumont, stated that “nothing” can stop the crossings de migrant boats, due to the size of the French coast.
“We have between 300 and 400 kilometers of coastline to monitor every day and every night and it is impossible to have police officers every 100 meters due to the length of the coast,” he explained.
Several rescue charities have urged the UK Home Office to adopt a “more humane and responsible approach” towards asylum seekers.
Amnesty International noted that people have the right to seek asylum in the UK and that they “take dangerous journeys and depend on traffickers because there are no safe alternatives available to you“.
“A small minority of global refugees find safety and want to rebuild their lives in the UK because they have a family and a community here,” Tim Naor Hilton, executive director of the British charity Refugee Action, told BBC World.
“The government must provide more routes safe, such as family reunion plans, humanitarian visas, and a long-term commitment to resettle 10,000 refugees per year“.
“Most people in the UK believe that we should offer shelter to those in need. And we have seen a palpable change in public opinion since the tragedy in Afghanistan, with donations to charities, housing offers and calls to treat refugees with the dignity they deserve, “added Hilton.
The Refugee Council, a British group that works with refugees and asylum seekers, called for measures to be taken to help migrants.
“Rather than spending time, resources, and immense effort to alienate these vulnerable people, this government must give people options for safe routes to stop such dangerous trips in the first place“.
“We urge this government to reconsider its brutal policies and to think about the individual lives at the center of these desperate journeys.”
Oxford University researcher Peter Walsh told BBC Mundo that, according to a survey by the Ministry of the Interior, almost all migrants who cross the canal and request asylum in the United Kingdom do so because they already have family in the country. perception that it is a peaceful and tolerant nation, and the fact that English is spoken.
“In many cases, the migrants themselves cannot choose; the traffickers decide for them“Walsh noted.
He also believes that this issue is of great concern to British citizens, but it is very complex to address by the government, which may use it rather “as a symbolic thing to do. political rhetoric“.
The British government said it continues to evaluate and test a variety of safe and legal options to find ways to stop small vessels undertaking the journey through the canal.
He also noted that he needs to use all possible tactics at his disposal to tackle human trafficking.
Patel has spoken on several occasions about organized crime gangs smuggling people to the UK, and that the new Nationality and Borders Bill aims to “break their business model”.
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