The number of migrants trying to reach England by boat from France has more than doubled in a year.
According to the French Maritime Directorate, about 15,500 migrants had either attempted or succeeded in crossing by August 31.
Since then, the number has continued to grow at a rapid pace, with French authorities blocking small boat crossings four times in September compared to the same month last year, and more than 1,470 people rescued in the English Channel during the first four days of November alone. .
The UK Home Office no longer provides a census but the number is now believed to be over 20,000 – a 235% increase from 2020 when 8,500 people challenged the crossing.
On November 24, dozens of migrants died after their boat sank near Calais. The accident marks the largest loss of life ever during the attempted illegal crossing of the English Channel, according to the International Organization for Migration.
So what explains this increase?
Very few safe and legal paths to the UK
“Limited access to insufficient safe and legal routes, is contributing to an increase in the number of people taking alternative means, including crossing the canal in small boats,” a spokesperson for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Euronews.
Several other experts from the Migration Policy Group and the Oxford Migration Monitor agreed.
Claire Mosley, NGO Care4Calais, explained to Euronews: “Boat crossings are one of the very few ways people can reach the UK to seek 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 hiding in a truck,” she said.
However, the popularity of lorry trucks has waned due to the long period of time required for a successful crossing due to technological advances.
Claire Millot, of the NGO Migrant Peace, told Euronews that a decade ago, it usually took three weeks for a migrant to successfully cross the English Channel stashed in a truck.
To limit such crossings, dogs have been deployed, followed by carbon dioxide detectors that determine if someone is breathing even if they are well hidden. Now, trucks are randomly placed in the scanners and average transit time is calculated in terms of months rather than weeks.
The sea is much faster and “something that worked really well this year,” she continued. “The crossings have been very successful in general, so inevitably then people are calling each other to say ‘I crossed on an inflatable boat’ and so that encourages others to do so.”
In addition, Dr Peter William Walsh, a researcher at Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, explained that “the route is becoming more entrenched, possibly with better organized smuggling networks, likely in part due to increased policing on other routes.”
What makes the UK so attractive?
There is no study that definitely shows what drives people to go 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 access. With a few words from the English language.
“They also know that there are no identity papers in England and they can more easily find unauthorized work, than here (in France),” Melott said of Slam.
She added: “The legislation is not the same, the controls are not the same and it is much easier in England to operate illegally in the long run.”
It could also be that they were refused asylum in the EU member states and ordered to leave the UK as their last chance.
However, Britain is still far from seeing how many asylum seekers the continental countries deal with. About 29,450 asylum applications were lodged in the UK in 2020, according to government figures. That’s down from the 2002 peak of 84,132.
More than 416,600 new asylum applications were filed 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 noted that the UK is also, in comparison, “not a particularly popular destination for unauthorized boat arrivals”.
“In 2020, Italy received 34,000 people who arrived without a permit by boat, while Spain received more than 40,000,” he said.
However, the increase in canal crossings has led the British Conservative government to adopt a tougher line on illegal immigration and introduce a bill aimed at radically curbing the phenomenon.
The new rules, if approved, will see asylum claims automatically denied if the applicant has traveled through a “safe country” such as France. Those found to have entered the UK illegally will face up to four years behind bars while people smugglers will face life sentences while family reunification will also be more difficult.
The The United Nations refugee agency has warned The plans risk creating a “two-tiered asylum system” that “imposes unfair penalties on refugees in need of protection.”
The United Kingdom has also concluded another contract with France, worth 63 million euros, to equip and increase the French patrols at the border.
The UK Home Office has promoted this cooperation, saying that thanks to its work with police and international partners, 300 people had been arrested and 65 convictions related to “small boat crimes” by October.
The number of migrants living in a precarious situation in Calais or near Dunkirk is not known precisely. Authorities estimate there are around 800-900 in Calais, and NGOs say the number has risen over the past few months to 1,500.
These are mainly people from countries like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan or sub-Saharan Africa who have fled conflict or violence.
That’s still well below the peak of 2016 when the so-called Calais Jungle housed nearly 10,000 people, but conditions remain similarly miserable.
“The situation in Calais is indescribable,” Care4Calais’ Mosley told Euronews. “There is still a ban on food distribution in some parts of Calais, and the actions of the police against immigrants are relentless. In many parts of Calais, wasteland areas have been stripped of trees and grass so that people cannot pitch tents for them to sleep in.”
“We see people sleeping outside on an open runway, at abandoned gas stations and behind abandoned shops. They are frequently moved and often violently awakened in the early hours of the morning until sleep is interrupted and fatigue is common. It is understood that they would run great risks of escape.”
The UK’s sweeping immigration and asylum reform, which is currently making its way through Parliament, is unlikely to have a significant impact on reducing the numbers, at least in the short term.
Dr Walsh stressed that research shows little evidence that those hoping to reach the UK have any detailed knowledge of the country’s asylum procedure, benefits entitlements, or the availability of work.
“There was less evidence that respondents had comparative knowledge of how these conditions differ between different European countries. If asylum seekers were not aware of the asylum policy, this suggests that their decisions are unlikely to be affected much by it,” he added. .
Milo of Salam said there had been no chilling effect so far from the bill or the border agreement between the UK and France.
“We know that some of them, upon arrival, are not placed in a hotel but in closed centers. We hear about it but they (other migrants hoping to cross) don’t know. Others tell them, smuggler for example, that’s not true. He has this fate, because some of them finished the crossing by swimming to avoid being caught by the Ministry of Interior, they hope to avoid control,” she said.
The UK defended its bill by saying there were “other safer and legal ways” such as resettling refugees on humanitarian grounds with UNHCR and the Resettlement Scheme for Afghan nationals, which was launched after the Taliban took control of the country in August.
that it The bill states that “Since 2015, we have resettled nearly 25,000 men, women and children seeking refuge from harsh conditions worldwide – more than any other European country.”
She says that illegal routes into the country, such as boats or trucks, are “extremely unfair” because “the presence of economic migrants – that these illegal routes introduce into the asylum system impede our ability to provide adequate support to others in real need of protection.”
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