There are rumoured to be still thousands of asylum seekers who are waiting for the opportunity to cross the English Channel in small boats to arrive on British shores.
Asylum applications to the UK are believed to have fallen but small boat crossings continue to rise after the coronavirus pandemic caused a decrease in other means of travel.
Approximately 9,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats already this year which is more than the total number for 2020, with nearly 400 asylum seekers being detained by British authorities during the last few days.
Much larger inflatable boats than the smaller dinghies previously used have been arriving with one such vessel landing carrying 83 passengers.
Many asylum seekers have said they were forced into flimsy boats with a threat of violence, after being promised a safe passage by smugglers with others being exploited and made to work for gangs in France.
Charities are calling for the government to set up more safe and legal alternatives but critics call for tougher action to stop the boats. Priti Patel, Home Secretary has however, announced an agreement to double the number of police to patrol French beaches, with the government planning on giving France £54m. She said: “We are utilising all aspects of government to tackle this issue and our significant actions are having an impact”.
“French authorities have already prevented over 7,500 migrants from entering the UK this year, which is nearly treble the number for the same period in 2020. We have signed a strengthened agreement to increase police patrols on French beaches, improve surveillance technology and enhance intelligence sharing”.
2,700 migrants have been intercepted at sea and returned to France preventing them from reaching the UK, according to Home Office information. The government is looking at the legality and safety implications of pushing boats back towards France iteself, but has as yet not reached a decision.
French authorities do not forcibly intercept migrants at sea who refuse to be rescued, and monitor the vessels’ journey into British waters and notify the coastguard in these circumstances.
The Home Office has been pushing to jail asylum seekers who steer these small boats as ‘people smugglers’, however, prosecutions have been limited by new Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) guidance.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, if enacted, would criminalise any migrant who reaches the UK on small boats by creating a new offence of knowingly arriving in the UK without valid entry clearance. It would also make it easier to prosecute people for steering boats or assisting asylum seekers who arrive by irregular routes.
It is not possible to claim asylum in the UK from abroad, or apply for entry clearance overseas with the purpose of claiming asylum.
The bill ‘would create a discriminatory two-tier asylum system violating the 1951 Refugee Convention and target bona fide refugees’ according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“The right to seek asylum is universal and does not depend on the mode of arrival. Under the Refugee Convention, states must grant asylum-seekers access to their territory and refugees to their rights”.
The government continues to claim that refugees should seek asylum in the first safe country they reach, but that is not a requirement under international law.
Refugees should not be denied access to the rights in the Convention just because a country thinks that asylum should be sought elsewhere.
The UNHCR, which identifies people to be resettled, said resettlement was ‘only open to a tiny minority of eligible refugees’ and ‘doesn’t absolve the UK of its obligations towards those arriving impromptu’