A deal between the UK and France to try and stop asylum seekers crossing the Channel has come into effect on December 1st.
The new agreement was signed a few days earlier by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel and the French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. It means that twice the number of officers will now patrol a huge stretch of France’s coastline used by people-smugglers.
The number of people making the dangerous crossing on small boats has increased dramatically this year when more than 8,000 reached the UK compared to just under 2000 last year. That’s despite Priti Patel’s promise in 2019 to ensure that journeys like these became an “infrequent phenomenon.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds from Amnesty International responded to the Home Secretary’s announcement about the new agreement saying, “It is profoundly disappointing that yet again these two governments have ignored the needs and rights of people who ought to be at the heart of their response.”
“Women, men, and children make dangerous journeys across the Channel because there are no safe options provided for them to either reunite with family in this country or access an effective asylum system, to which they are entitled,” he continued.
“The UK government must share responsibility for providing sanctuary with its nearest neighbour,” he concluded.
The agreement boosts the amount of surveillance technology available to officials. This includes drones, radar equipment and cameras which are all used to spot those who put their lives at risk when trying to cross the 30km stretch of water separating the UK from France.
More than 8,000 people reached the UK in 2020 compared to just under 2000 last year by crossing the Channel
A statement made by the Home Office said, “The specialist equipment will allow the French to be more efficient in searching and clearing areas faster and help ensure officers are deployed in the right place at the right time, as a result increasing the number of migrants and facilitators detected and prevented from entering the water.”
Care4Calais is a volunteer-run refugee charity working with refugees in France and Belgium. It described the surveillance package as something akin to what a government would have when it is “preparing for a military enemy.”
It described those crossing the channel as ordinary people who are not criminals and who actually do not want to make the terrifying journey. Another charity, Detention Action, described the deal as ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.’
Charities believe that the only way to resolve the issue of dangerous Channel crossings is to create a safe and legal route to the UK from northern France. They see the new measures as futile and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Ms Patel has claimed that the UK would introduce “a new asylum system” which is “firm and fair.” She promised new laws to achieve this next year.
Header image [Alicia Monedero, Shutterstock]