From file: Migrants are escorted into Dover harbour, after being rescued while attempting to cross the English Channel, in Dover, Britain, August 24, 2022 | Photo: Henry Nicholls,/Reuters
From file: Migrants are escorted into Dover harbour, after being rescued while attempting to cross the English Channel, in Dover, Britain, August 24, 2022 | Photo: Henry Nicholls,/Reuters

More migrants crossed the Channel to the UK from France between January and mid-September than in the whole of 2021. What accounts for these record numbers? Infomigrants speaks to Olivier Cahn, a researcher specialized in penal law and author of a thesis on Franco-English police cooperation in the Channel zone.

InfoMigrants: What accounts for the record number of Channel crossings?

Olivier Cahn: The favorable weather conditions over the past weeks* have facilitated the crossing. Secondly, there has been a strong afflux of Albanian refugees. Unlike refugees from Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan, the Albanians can pay the price (the cost can be up to 10,000 €) asked for by the organized criminal networks which are usually managed by Kurds. 

Finally, the fact that migrants are embarking across the Channel is because the passage through the tunnel or via the port has become nearly impossible with extremely sophisticated methods used to detect the migrants hidden in trucks or ferries. This route has become nearly hermetic with machines paid for by the English and employed by the French which measure C02 levels and detect heartbeats. In contrast, the option of crossing by the ocean is still open. It is very difficult for border controls to patrol thousands of kilometers of beach and this provides a window of opportunity for migrants.

Why are there so many people who try their luck in reaching England?

There was once a theory, promulgated by the sociologist Smaïn Laacher, that England was a destination by default for migrants. These people had imagined Europe as an Eldorado and soon discovered that it was not the case once they arrived in Greece. They kept moving west and England was the last country for which they held out their hopes.

This is no longer the case. Refugees come to England because there are large communities which had time to settle before 1993, when England restricted its rules for accepting migrants. These refugees come to rejoin family members. Secondly, refugees are conscientious of the loopholes in England’s labor market, which allows them to find work even without papers, as well as the rare identity checks conducted by the British police.

Can the recent appointment of Liz Truss as England’s premier change the situation?

Liz Truss is unlikely to be different from her predecessors. In recent declarations, she made it clear that she wouldn’t hesitate to use anti-French sentiment to her advantage. In the past, the French and English governments have had the tendency to instrumentalize one another. Whenever there was a domestic problem, politicians on both sides would try to divert the public attention to Calais, and blame the other side for not upholding its responsibility. By paying France to handle the flux of migrants, England has taken on a role similar to the one of the European Union with Turkey and Morocco.

Despite a tumultuous Franco-British relationship, rendered even more complicated by the Brexit, the securing of the border is real. French and British police officers continue collaborating and prime ministers continue visiting sites along the coast in order to assess the situation. France and England should strive to find a political solution that would distribute the migrants in both countries instead of resorting to police surveillance. 

Also read: France to UK: Why do migrants risk the Channel crossing?

*Note: This interview was conducted on September 8.


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