Why are migrant crossings between France and England increasing?

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The number of migrants trying to reach England on boats from France has more than doubled in one year.

About 15,500 migrants had either tried or managed to pass on August 31, according to the French shipping prefecture.

Since then, the number has continued to grow at a rapid pace with French authorities successfully preventing four times as many boat crossings in September as the same month last year, rescuing more than 1,470 people in the English Channel in the first four days of November alone.

The UK Home Office no longer provides a figure, but it is believed that the number now exceeds 20,000 – an increase of 235% compared to 2020 when 8,500 people defied the crossing.

On November 24, dozens of migrants died after their boat sank near Calais. The accident marks the largest loss of human life ever during an attempted illegal crossing of the English Channel, according to the International Organization for Migration.

So what explains this increase?

Too few safe and legal routes to the UK

“Limited access to, or insufficient, safe and legal routes contributes to more people taking alternative means, including crossing the canal in small boats,” a spokesman for the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Euronews.

Several other experts from the Migration Policy Group and the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory agreed.

Clare Mosely, founder of Care4Calais NGO, told Euronews that “boat crossings are one of the very few ways that people can go to the UK to apply for asylum.

“For all practical purposes, there is no legal way to travel, so the only choice is whether you risk your life in a small boat or hidden in a truck,” she said.

However, trucks have declined in popularity as the time required for a successful crossing has been extended due to technological advances.

Claire Millot, from the migrant organization Salam, told Euronews that a decade ago it would usually take three weeks for a migrant to succeed in crossing the English Channel hidden on a truck.

To curb such crossings, dogs were deployed, followed by carbon dioxide detectors that flag if someone is breathing even if they are well hidden. Now trucks go through scanners at random and the average crossing time is calculated in months instead of weeks.

The sea is much faster and “something that worked very well this year”, she continued. “The crossings were generally very successful and so inevitably people call each other afterwards to say ‘I crossed on an inflatable boat’ and so encourage the other to do so.”

In addition, Dr Peter William Walsh, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, explained “the road has become more established, probably with better organized human trafficking networks, in part probably due to increased policing on other roads”.

What makes the UK so attractive?

There is no study that definitively states what drives people to travel to the UK illegally, but it is believed to be a combination of factors including the presence of family members or acquaintances, their belief that the country is open, safe and tolerant and their ability to get rid of a few words of English.

“They also know that there are no identity documents in England and that they can easily find undeclared work, more than here (in France),” said Salams Millot.

“The legislation is not the same, the controls are not the same, it is much easier in England to work illegally in the long run,” she added.

It may also be that they have been refused asylum in EU member states and ordered to leave and see Britain as their last chance.

Nevertheless, the United Kingdom is far from seeing the number of asylum seekers that continental countries have to deal with. About 29,450 asylum applications were filed in the UK by 2020, according to government figures. This is a decrease from a peak in 2002 of 84 132.

More than 416,600 new asylum applications were lodged in EU Member States last year, including 102,500 in Germany, 81,800 in France, 37,900 in Greece and 21,200 in Italy. according to Eurostat.

Dr Walsh also pointed out that the UK is not, by comparison, “a particularly popular destination for unauthorized boat arrivals”.

“By 2020, Italy received 34,000 people who arrived without a permit by boat, while Spain received over 40,000,” he said.

“Unspeakable” conditions

Nevertheless, the rise of canal crossings has led the UK Conservative government to adopt a much tougher line against illegal immigration and introduce a bill aimed at drastically curbing the phenomenon.

The new rules, if approved, would mean that asylum applications would be automatically rejected if the applicant has traveled through a “safe country” such as France. Those found to have entered the UK illegally would face up to four years behind bars while human traffickers risk life imprisonment while family reunifications will also be greatly hampered.

The The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) has warned that the plans risk creating a “two-part asylum system” that “delivers unfair punishments to refugees in need of protection”.

Britain has also signed another contract with France, worth 63 million euros, to equip and expand French patrols at the border.

The UK Home Office has praised the co-operation, saying that thanks to its work with the police and international partners, 300 arrests and 65 convictions related to “small boat crime” had been secured in October.

The number of migrants living in a precarious situation in Calais or near Dunkirk is not exactly known. Authorities estimate that there are about 800-900 in Calais, NGOs say that the number has increased in recent months to 1,500.

It is mainly people from countries such as Syria, Libya, Afghanistan or sub-Saharan Africa who are fleeing conflict or violence.

It is still well below the peak of 2016 when the so-called Calais jungle housed almost 10,000 people but the conditions are still just as deplorable.

“The situation in Calais is unspeakable,” Care4Calais Moseley told Euronews. “There continues to be a ban on food distribution in some parts of Calais, and police action against migrants is relentless. In many parts of Calais, wastelands have been exposed from trees and shrubs so that people cannot set up tents to sleep.”

“We see people sleeping out on bare asphalt, in closed petrol stations and behind abandoned shops. They are constantly and often violently awakened early in the morning so that sleep is disturbed and fatigue is common. It is completely common. Understandably they would take great risks to escape, she said.

“Deeply unfair”

The UK’s planned immigration and asylum review, which is currently under way in Parliament, is unlikely to have a major impact on the figures, at least in the short term.

Research shows little evidence that those hoping to enter the UK have any detailed knowledge of the country’s asylum procedures, preferential rights or availability for work, Dr Walsh emphasized.

“There was even less evidence that respondents had a comparative knowledge of how these conditions varied between different European countries. If asylum seekers are not aware of the asylum policy, it indicates that their decisions are unlikely to be significantly affected by it,” he added. . .

Millot of Salam said there has been no cooling effect so far from the draft bill or the border agreement between Britain and France.

“We know that some of them, when they arrive, are not placed in a hotel but in closed centers. We hear about it but they (other migrants hoping to get over) do not know. Others tell them, the smuggler for example, that “And it’s not true. And because they know someone who went over and did not have this fate, because some of them end the crossing by swimming to avoid being picked up by the Home Office, they hope to avoid checks,” she said.

Britain has defended its bill by arguing that there are “other safer and more legal ways” such as humanitarian refugee resettlement with the UNHCR and the Afghan citizens’ resettlement plan, launched after the country took over the Taliban insurgency in August.

Its the bill says that “Since 2015, we have resettled almost 25,000 men, women and children seeking protection from cruel circumstances around the world – more than any other European country.”

It says that illegal routes into the country, such as by boat or truck, are “deeply unfair” because “the presence of economic migrants – which these illegal routes introduce into the asylum system – hampers our ability to properly support others in genuine need for protection.”

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