UK Government Cracks Down on Migrant Channel Crossings

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This year, more than 4000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in order to reach the United Kingdom. On August 8 alone, more than 150 people arrived onto British shores, having survived the often treacherous journey. In response, the British government is now placing a range of preventative measures in order to deter and intercept potential migrants. 

United Kingdom Home Secretary Priti Patel described the recent influx of migrants as “totally unacceptable,” and therefore is striving to shut down routes from France to the UK. The government has gone as far as to deploying a Royal Air Force plane over southern coastal waters to support Border Force operations in the channel. Amnesty International, a human rights charity in the UK, has especially been vocal about the issue and expressed concerns at the prospect of naval intervention. The charity’s refugee and migrant rights program director Steve Valdez-Symonds believes it is “unlawful, reckless and dangerous” to deprive migrants of the right to claim asylum. Many also fear that such an extensive crackdown could result in more deaths. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that it is extremely difficult to legally return people who arrive in the UK from France and therefore is considering the most effective policing option. “The French do have 300km of coastline facing the UK which is quite hard to police and I think a lot of the money they are asking for is to reinforce mobile patrols up and down those beaches to stop people even getting into these boats,” he said.

A YouGov survey found that almost half of the British public have “little or no sympathy” for those fleeing their countries and arriving in the UK. Less than a fifth described themselves as having “a great deal of sympathy,” and over half of the respondents also felt that the UK has no responsibility to care for those arriving into the country. 

Tensions between France and the UK have risen over recent weeks, as the Home Secretary has called on French President Emmanuel Macron’s government to implement greater anti-immigration measures. The French government has reportedly agreed to do so, provided they are granted more funds. On August 11, Chris Philp, UK Minister for Immigration Compliance, announced that the two countries were working “at pace” to reduce crossings. The two governments aim to make the channel an “unviable” route, as the British have recognized the French government has already intercepted over 1000 potential immigrants in 2020. However, both governments have been reluctant to comment on financial pledges. 

Both BBC and Sky News have faced heavy criticism for their presentation of migrant crossings. Scenes of overcrowded boats have repeatedly been live-streamed across the country, a decision many have described as “dehumanizing.” Specifically, journalists covering the waters of Dover have been accused of “voyeurism” and “capitalizing on misery.” BBC has stated that they aim to cover such stories “sensitively” while Sky News has promised to show the story in a “responsible and human way.”

Editor’s note: The Royal Navy has announced it will cease to deploy sea vessels to prevent migrants from reaching the UK, as warships could cause “fatal incidents” to those arriving on shore in unseaworthy boats. The Military of Defense will alternatively use surveillance aircraft and provide increased personnel to the Border Force.