UK migrant boat controversy eyes Channel

UK migrant boat controversy eyes Channel
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UK migrant boat controversy eyes Channel

UK migrant boat controversy eyes Channel

FOLKESTONE, England – Using high-powered binoculars and a telescope, three volunteers from a humanitarian surveillance group stand on the Kent coast, looking out over the English Channel. The rising bell tower of the French city of Calais was visible this clear morning, but so was the distinctive outline of a small rubber canoe.

The volunteer group, Channel Rescue, was set up last year to look after boats full of asylum seekers who were trying to cross this busy waterway, to provide humanitarian aid – such as water and foil blankets. – I’m in distress when they land on the beaches, or to spot them.

But they are also monitoring the UK border authority for any possible rights violations as the government takes a tougher stance on migration. For most of the year, there has been an increase in the number of migrants crossing the Channel in dinghies, a political storm raging in London and Principal Home Secretary Priti Patel to authorize tough tactics to push the boats back to France. has been authorized.

The authorization – yet to come into force – has sparked a national debate over immigration and sparked another diplomatic dispute between Britain and France, whose relations have been on issues including both fishing rights and global strategic interests after Brexit. were already tense.

Rights groups and immigration experts say the government’s approach is aggravating the situation and could endanger migrants, many of whom are fleeing poverty and violence. Here in Kent, a place of reception and first point of defense for centuries of hardship for those fleeing hardship, when conflict with Europe erupts, there is a sense that confrontation may come.

Far-right activists have come ashore to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment. Ms. Patel introduced the strict policy of the government by visiting a ship of Seema Bal. Last week, Channel Rescue documented Border Force ships practicing pushback maneuvers.

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“This hostile environment is really sick,” said Steven, one of the volunteers, who said only his first name should be used after threats from far-right activists.

The Home Office declined to comment on the exercises, saying they were “operationally sensitive”.

But experts say that guidance may prove to be more than a political theatre. The pushback could put lives at risk, experts say, and a boat could only be turned back to France if a French vessel agrees to accede to it – a growing hostility unlikely.

France and Britain have long cooperated with Chanel’s police. As recently as July, Britain agreed to give France more money for patrols. But under pressure herself, Ms Patel has since threatened to withdraw funds from France if they fail to cooperate along the strict British line.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmainin said he would not accept “any practice that goes against the law of the sea” and added: “The friendship between our two countries is better than posture.”

There is also opposition from the union representing the Seema Bal. Lucy Moreton, a union official, said the pushback would create difficulties for officers and could prompt people to jump off boats.

“The Home Secretary announced it without any warning. “It will probably increase tensions with the migrants, putting both migrants and border force officials at risk.”

Even if a boat is never pushed back, the idea has fueled a national debate about how Britain should welcome migrants. British tabloids and some right-wing broadcasters have painted alarmist – sometimes misleading – accounts about arriving migrants.

Former Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage has denounced the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a nearly 200-year-old charity whose volunteers save lives at sea in the form of a “taxi service”.

So far this year, about 16,300 people have taken small boat trips from continental Europe to England, up from about 8,500 in 2020, the government confirmed. But experts say the available data shows no evidence of an increase in total unauthorized arrivals, as opposed to a shift from other modes of entry such as smuggling by truck.

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Peter William Walsh, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said that both this year and the previous years there had been an increasing number of people by boat, almost all of whom had claimed asylum upon arrival, but the most recent official figures show an overall There was a decline in asylum. Application.

In towns and villages across the Kent coast, angry immigration politics has infiltrated. Far-right activists have flocked to beaches to record videos as migrant boats come ashore, often hurling abuses.

For some in the area, Napier Barracks, a converted military site on the outskirts of Folkestone, has become a focal point. About 300 men are being held in the barracks as they await a decision on their asylum applications. On a Facebook page for residents of Folkestone, heated debate over migration is common. A resident posted a photo posted last week showing the men carrying soccer nets near the barracks.

Some speculated that it was theft, while others immediately defended the men, noting – correctly – that the traps were theirs.

Soccer is one of the few ways for men like Temsjen Gosse while they await the asylum verdict. Mr Gosai, 32, a journalist fleeing persecution in Ethiopia, has been in the UK for three months since crossing over by boat.

“Honestly, I’m really grateful, because I know there are people who are struggling in this country, and they’re supporting us in any way they can,” he said of the reception he received.

Across town, at the Lord Morris Pub in Folkestone, patrons had mixed views as they chatted over pints last week.

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“You get accused of being a racist, but it’s not about racism, it’s about it — well, we’re full,” said Berrick Collingham, 68, a longtime Folkestone resident who Realized it was time to stop the boats.

Richard Smith, 66, a former merchant marine, and Jacqueline Castello, 65, both felt that more should be done to find safe passage for those claiming asylum in Britain, as the shipping route was busy and sometimes It was fatal for small ships. A family of five people died when the boat sank. The body of the youngest child was washed away on a Norwegian beach this summer.

“They’re looking for salvation, aren’t they?” Mr. Smith said. “You can’t make them go away. You have to imagine yourself in that situation – what if we were going the other way?”

Bridget Chapman from the Kent Refugee Action Network, a charity that supports asylum seekers in the area, said most residents supported humanitarian efforts, even though some wrongly blamed asylum seekers for a lack of public services. ordained. Some of Folkestone’s neighborhoods are among the most disadvantaged in the country. But, she said, that anger is misplaced.

“I think the central government has let them down,” she said. “But that’s what they need to be angry about.”

At the local museum in Folkestone, Ms. Chapman pointed to a large canvas depicting the thousands of Belgian refugees fleeing across the Channel during World War I, who arrived in port to a warm welcome. While the region has historically been a defensive border line during war and a safe harbor for those fleeing conflict, its mindset remains a complex identity.

“It’s history to welcome and protect,” said Ms. Chapman. “Both are built-in – it just depends on which buttons are pressed.”

Aurelian Breeden Contributed reporting from Paris.

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