Small-boat Channel crossings – what’s the answer?
45,756 people crossed the English Channel on small boats in 2022. This is an incredibly dangerous journey as the Channel is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world and these small vessels do not have the power to get out of the way of large ships that could easily run them down without seeing them. In addition, weather conditions, heavy wind, rain and waves can be brutal at this time of year, and many of the migrants don’t have life jackets.
Why are people crossing the channel in small boats?
They are undertaking these perilous journeys because they are desperate to claim asylum in the UK, but no safe routes exist to do this for most refugees. They are ordinary people who have done nothing wrong, other than to be born in a country which poses a huge danger to their lives. All they want is to be in a place where they can be safe, build a new life and contribute positively to society.
Why come to the UK?
Contrary to what many people think, most refugees in Europe do not want to come to the UK, nor is that where the vast majority currently are. In 2021, 93% of refugees that came to Europe did not head to the UK.
However, those that do want to come to the UK usually have very strong reasons for it, the most common being family ties. Family ties run deep, especially when you have lost everything else. Just imagine if you’d lost your home, your family, and your only remaining relatives were in the UK – wouldn’t you do everything you could to get to them?
Other reasons include practicality, for example speaking English. Many of the young children want to go to school to learn in a language that they know; the adults want to provide for their families and want to put their skills to use in a country where they speak the language – imagine having to do your job in France or Germany, not speaking a word of French or German.
Why is this happening now?
There have been refugees in Calais for 25 years and, until recent years, most attempted to get to the UK in lorries or cars. What has changed in recent years is people crossing the Channel in small boats.
This demonstrates that the effect of greater security measures in Calais has just been to force people to take even more desperate risks – it does not provide a long-term solution.
Similarly, closing the ‘Jungle’ camp did not stop people from coming to Calais; it just made living conditions more squalid. This is an ongoing embarrassment to both France and the UK.
It is time for a different approach.
Who are the people in Calais?
The refugees we work with in Calais come from the most dangerous places in the world such as Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sudan – countries that have asylum acceptance rates in the UK of between 82%-98%. Calais is often a reflection of the worst that is happening elsewhere in the world because that is what creates refugees.
What are conditions like in Calais now?
Since the Calais jungle was closed in October 2016, the French authorities will not allow another ‘camp’ to form, so people are sleeping rough across Calais, Dunkirk and further along the French coastline.
Living conditions are horrific, especially at this time of year when there is freezing rain, bitter winds off the sea, and temperatures drop below zero.
People have no shelter from the elements as the French police regularly confiscate tents and sleeping bags, as well as move people on at night so that they never feel safe. There is no sanitation, no regular food supply, and constant hostility and violence from the authorities.
Is this a ‘Crisis’?
The human crisis is the terrifying level of risk that ordinary people are now being forced to take to access a right that many of them are legally entitled to – when they have done nothing wrong except be born in the wrong country.
Will hardline policies like the Government’s Rwanda plan stop small boat crossings?
The Government has tried all sorts of things to reduce the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats – but none of it has worked. In fact, more people than ever are crossing in small boats since the Rwanda policy was announced.
The truth is, people in desperate situations will continue to risk their lives to find safety until there’s a safer option.
So what can be done?
People who are brave and resilient enough to have escaped from the worst terrors in this world should not be risking their lives once again to claim asylum in the UK. We know it’s possible to give people safe passage – we do it for Ukrainian refugees – so why not do it for other refugees?
By using an online screening process and issuing travel visas, we could bring refugees to the UK safely to claim asylum – putting people smugglers out of a job. This worked for Ukrainians. So why won’t the Government act?
What if this means that more come?
In 2022 the UK issued 208,304 visas to Ukrainians and 144,576 to people from Hong Kong. There is no reason we can’t do the same for just 45,756 from everywhere else in the world, particularly when we have 1.3 million job vacancies that we are unable to fill.
Once their asylum claims are approved, people can work and support themselves, they can pay taxes and use their skills and talents to benefit our society, there is no reason for them to cost us anything.
#SafePassage now: care4calais.org/safepassage/