Refugee activists slam UK government after Channel tragedy

‘UK government policy is failing,’ say refugee activists after Channel tragedy
4 min read
26 November, 2021
Refugee activists have slammed the UK government for adopting a 'dangerous' approach to migration following Wednesday's tragedy in the English Channel, in which at least 27 people died.
'Blaming smugglers when there are no legal routes is like blaming back-street abortions when abortion was illegal,' said one refugee activist [Getty]

Activists and charities have slammed the UK government for failing to protect asylum seekers after at least 27 people were found dead in the English Channel Wednesday. 

Refugee advocates criticised UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “dangerous” approach to migration, saying that it is trying to make Channel crossing "unviable" but ultimately penalises asylum seekers and puts people at risk. 

They also condemned politicians who blamed people smugglers for Wednesday’s tragedy - in which at least one pregnant woman and three children were among the 27 people found dead  - when there are no safe routes to claim asylum in Britain. 

“UK government policy is failing in its own terms. It is failing to make the Channel route ‘unviable’. It’s also failing in humanitarian terms to prevent tragedies,” said Clara Connolly, an activist with Syria Solidarity UK and retired immigration lawyer, to The New Arab. 

Connolly said Johnson’s government should be focused on finding safe routes for people coming to the UK, not “fighting fake wars with France”.

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Johnson said he was “shocked” and “appalled” by the dozens of deaths in the Channel. Together with French President Emmanuel Macron, he agreed to “step up” efforts to prevent future dangerous journeys. 

Both leaders blamed trafficking gangs for putting people’s lives at risk. 

However, Connolly said: “blaming smugglers when there are no legal routes is like blaming back-street abortions when abortion was illegal.” 

Mike Brown, who has worked with refugees for 20 years with organisations such as Refugee Action and Bail for Immigration Detainees, told The New Arab that plans to make it harder to reach the UK will only fuel “the refugees’ need for smugglers.

"So perversely [it] is making their business even more profitable.

He added: “You can’t solve the refugee crisis by building higher walls. This will only result in more deaths. More children will die.” 

The majority of the 27 people found dead off the northern port of Calais where Kurds from Iraq and Iran

Two male survivors, an Iraqi and Somali, are being treated for exhaustion and hypothermia. 

A criminal investigation has been opened by a public prosecutor in Lille over the incident, with four men suspected of "direct involvement" in the attempted crossing. 

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin, who blamed "mafia-like" people smugglers, said "the UK does not handle illicit migration well" in the wake of the disaster.

Johnson on the other hand said Britain faced “difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves”. 

'You can’t solve the refugee crisis by building higher walls. This will only result in more deaths. More children will die,' said a Refugee advocate 

Johnson’s government has advocated a new approach to migration under its Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently being debated in parliament. 

The bill, spearheaded by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, claims it will break the business model of people smugglers and that it will save lives. 

But refugee groups have repeatedly slammed the proposed legislation for penalising vulnerable people and for failing to address geuine problems with the UK asylum system, such as more efficient and effective decision making. 

“[The bill] contains some fearsome measures, which will create a two-tier system of asylum,” said Connolly to The New Arab. 

For example, she explained, if you come to the UK “without permission” you could be criminalised, arrested or even charged. 

The majority of men, women and children travelling on small boats across the Channel have a right to claim asylum in the UK but lack a legal route of travel. 

Connolly added that people who travelled through a “safe” country could have their claim deemed “inadmissible” and be deported. However, this only happens if the UK Home Office can find a country willing to take people in, so effectively it just “delays” the processing of asylum claims, she said. 

“Prit Patel knows that the provisions of the Borders Bill are unlawful, but they speak powerfully to the Conservative base,” said Mike Brown. 

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said to The New Arab: "How many more lives must be lost before we finally end the cruel and dangerous tactic of seeking to punish or push away those who try and find safety in our country?”