Skip to content


LONDON – Britain and France exchanged charges on Thursday after at least 27 people drowned as they tried to cross the canal separating the two countries in small inflatable boats, a disaster that provided momentum tragic to calls to action on a long-simmering migrant crisis.

Following one of the deadliest incidents off their coasts in recent years, leaders on both sides pledged to redouble their efforts to end the crossings.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France would not allow the Calais coast to “become a cemetery” as he urged the UK not to use the tragedy for “political ends”. “Get away with murder”.

But advocates and politicians who have long called for a more humane approach to the controversial issue have said both countries bear some responsibility for the loss of life. It could have been avoided, they said, if there had been a safe and legal route to the UK for those determined to leave their homes far behind in the hope of a better life.

From the back of a truck to small boats

“The first thing we have to understand is that this is a situation that has been going on in one way or another for over 20 years,” Robert McNeil, deputy director, told NBC News. from the Migration Observatory of the University of Oxford. a telephone interview Thursday.

While migrants and asylum seekers once relied heavily on the use of Eurostar trains and smuggling in trucks to reach British soil, McNeil said a crackdown on the Franco-British border saw people increasingly look to the Channel crossing as a faster and more reliable route to the UK

Since 2018, he said, the number of people risking the dangerous journey through the roughly 45-mile body of icy water has increased. It is good that it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and dominated by strong currents.

“Once it became clear that the little boat was working, you saw a very, very fast climb,” McNeil said.

Ever-increasing numbers of people fleeing conflict or poverty risk the perilous journey in small, non-navigable craft.Ben Stanshall / AFP – Getty Images

After a slight McNeil lull attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, recent months have seen a steady increase in arrivals. The daily number of people crossing the Channel on small boats reached 1,185 on November 11, breaking a record set earlier this month, according to Sky News, which is owned by NBC News parent company, Comcast.

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office told NBC News he could not comment on the number of reported crossings.

This increase comes amid growing concentration – and friction – on migration and security issues both within and between the two countries. In France, Macron hopes to avoid a far-right challenge ahead of next year’s presidential election, while in the UK, supporters of the Brexit campaign that saw the country exit the European Union and helped lift Johnson to power, demanded tougher action.

British officials on Thursday criticized Paris for having rejected an offer of joint patrols along the Channel coast. French authorities have accused the UK of allowing migrants to stay in the country too easily and to work if they navigate the crossing safely. Macron also called on other European countries to do more to prevent migrants from reaching France in the first place.

No “safe and legal route” to UK, advocates say

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of immigration advocacy group Refugee Action, said he believed France and Britain’s response to the ongoing crisis was wrong.

Migrants and asylum seekers would continue to risk their lives to reach the UK unless “safe and legal” avenues to seek asylum are available, he said.

“What we do know is that the people who cross the Channel in these little boats take incredible risks, risks that they know and understand, but it shows that level of desperation to be able to find safety and protection and to build a new life.” he said.

A report released earlier this month by the Refugee Council, a UK-based organization that works to support asylum seekers and migrants, found that 91% of people crossing the Channel between January 2020 and May 2021 came from just ten countries “where human rights violations and persecution are rife.

These countries included Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, the report said, citing data obtained from the UK Home Office as part of an access request to information. A spokesperson for the ministry told NBC News it could not comment on the matter.

“They are fleeing for their safety and to try to rebuild their lives and right now what we are seeing are these same people dying in the waters around this country, which should be a moment of total national shame,” Naor Hilton said.

More than 25,000 people have made the dangerous Channel crossing so far this year, according to Reuters, about triple the total for all of 2020.Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters

In a statement, Médecins Sans Frontières said Wednesday’s tragedy was a “tragic reminder that tough migration policies don’t work”.

“Without enough safe and legal roads people have no choice but to risk their lives to come to the UK”

McNeil said he also believed access to a safe way to seek asylum in Britain could have prevented the tragedy.

“There is no road to the UK for people to actively seek asylum here,” he said. “There is no way to do that unless you are actively on British soil.”

While the UK has a refugee resettlement program in place, McNeil likened it to “the claw” in the movie Toy Story, referring to an arcade game where a few selected toys are torn from a machine.

New data released on Thursday showed the number of people resettled under the program was also down, with 1,171 people resettled in the 12 months to September 2021, a drop of around 45% from 12 months previous ones.

“A decisive moment? “

In the wake of Wednesday’s tragedy, some British politicians have also echoed the government’s calls to change course.

Opposition Labor MP Zarah Sultana said she was heartbroken by the deaths.

“Please let this be the time when we come up with safe routes to welcome refugees to Britain, instead of stoking hatred and fear endlessly,” Sultana wrote. on Twitter.

Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP who previously led the party, blamed the fatal incident on “cruel and inhumane policies”.

The criticism comes as the UK mulls a new bill to deter level crossings.

Introduced by Home Secretary Priti Patel in July, the bill aims to “better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum”, while deterring “illegal entry into the UK” and facilitating dismissing “those who have no right to be here,” said the British government.

Patel made it clear in the aftermath of the tragedy that the government would go ahead. A spokesperson for Johnson, meanwhile, told Reuters that providing a safe route for migrants would only add to the factors encouraging people to make the trip.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said Britain would “continue to step up” efforts to “prevent migrants from embarking on these deadly journeys”.AFP – Getty Images

Naor Hilton said he fears more lives will be lost if the UK does not focus on “empathy and understanding why people take these risks rather than just saying they shouldn’t not do it “.

Wednesday’s tragedy, he said, “should be a watershed moment.”

“It should be a line in the sand.”




nbcnews Gt

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.