The UK-France deal misses the mark again by failing to deliver safe routes for refugees
The United Kingdom and France have come to yet another deal on tackling the issue of Channel crossings. In five years we have seen five such deals, £141m spent with a further £63m a year now promised, and at least 57 people dead or missing.
Yet on both sides of the Channel, many of us are asking the question – what has changed?
Rather than the step-change that’s needed, instead this deal is simply more of the same misguided approach, with more money for patrols and more security at the border. In reality, this approach has failed to prevent dangerous crossings – they’ve only risen – and has failed to prevent lives being lost at our borders.
The fact is that people crossing the Channel in dangerous ways is nothing new, but the final stage of a long route to protection that started well before France or Europe. Before boats in the Channel dominated headlines, refugees hid in lorries at great risk of suffocation or injury. Increased security at the Calais Port in recent years, a central part of every UK-France deal to date, has changed the method of travel but not the need of refugees for protection.
The smugglers’ grip on Channel crossings cannot be broken without offering refugees alternatives
There remains no way to seek asylum in the UK without being physically present on British soil, and many of those making the journey have strong reason for seeking protection there. In fact, in the last two years rather than opening safe pathways for refugees, they have been closed, making more refugees reliant on smugglers.
This new deal is another missed opportunity to agree a replacement to the EU Dublin III Regulation, which allowed many refugees in France and other parts of Europe to reunite safely with family in the UK. Our organisations in the UK and France assisted hundreds of lone children to apply under this scheme. When their applications were granted, we would be there to meet them as they arrived on the Eurostar and watched as they finally hugged and held their loved ones again, often after years of separation because of war and persecution.
Now, without such an agreement, many of the unaccompanied children we meet in Calais and Dunkirk are left with no option but a terrifying journey in an overcrowded dinghy across the Channel. We’ve seen a 95 per cent drop in the number of children able to safely reunite with family.
Not only did this regulation help some refugees to travel to the UK safely, but also was an essential tool to accessing protection in France. In the last few years, more than 80 per cent of the people we’ve assisted in northern France are living on the streets and in informal camps when we first met. But when Dublin was in operation, it gave people hope there was an alternative to dangerous sea crossings so they would agree to move into shelters.
Many refugees, after experiencing the warmth and dignity of accommodation and being informed of their rights then decided to stay in France and apply for asylum there. Crucially, moving into this accommodation removed people from the temptation and lies of smugglers.
The smugglers’ grip on Channel crossings cannot be broken without offering refugees alternatives. The UK and France should be working together through a joint process to help people seeking asylum in the UK to do so safely, and to help others claim asylum in France.
The last three years have shown us that building fortresses at our borders, demonising refugees and blaming each other doesn’t work. Orderly and humane systems of protection for refugees can only be delivered by countries working together to offer safe alternatives, whether in France or the UK.
Almost a year on from the worst tragedy on our shores in a generation, when at least 27 women, men and children lost their lives, with five people still missing, it’s truly painful that their losses appear forgotten in our governments approach to Channel crossings.
If Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President Emmanuel Macron are serious about tackling this issue, they must be honest about what has contributed to the rise in perilous journeys, and what it will take to slow them.
Beth Gardiner-Smith, CEO at Safe Passage International. Marie-Charlotte Fabié, director of Safe Passage France.
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