A group of people crossing from France come ashore from the local lifeboat at Dungeness in Kent, after being picked up by authorities on July 20, 2021 | Photo: Picture-alliance/Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A group of people crossing from France come ashore from the local lifeboat at Dungeness in Kent, after being picked up by authorities on July 20, 2021 | Photo: Picture-alliance/Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

After a record 430 migrants crossed the Channel to the UK irregularly in a single day, France and the UK announced they would bolster their border protection and clamp down on irregular migration and smugglers. If passed, the UK's contentious Nationality and Borders Bill will impose stricter jail terms for migrants entering the UK unlawfully.

Monday's figure has surpassed the previous daily high of 416 migrant arrivals across the English Channel that was set in September 2020.

The new record happened on the same day that lawmakers in the United Kingdom debated new legislation that would overhaul asylum rules and increase maximum sentences for both migrants and people smugglers.

With this week's arrivals, the number of migrants reaching Britain in small boats this year has eclipsed the total for all of 2020. Crossings of the English Channel typically increase in favorable summer weather.

According to data compiled by Britain's Press Association, at least 8,452 migrants crossed the Channel in 2021 as of late Tuesday (July 20), slightly more than the 8,417 people who landed on UK shores last year. Their numbers of these irregular migrants -- many of them on dangerously overcrowded inflatable boats -- has increased steadily since the start of 2020.

The 430 migrants who crossed the Channel to the UK included women and young children and set a record for a single day, the Home Office said. One dinghy, which landed in Kent on England's southern coast, carried around 50 people. Some of the passengers raised their hands in celebration upon landing on the stony beach.

More patrols, detection tech and more

"France and the United Kingdom have agreed to deploy more police and invest in detection technology on the French coast to try to stop boats carrying illegal migrants from reaching British shores, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday," Reuters reported.

On its northern coast, French authorities will deploy twice as many police staff between the cities of Boulogne and Dunkirk and around the port of Dieppe, according to Reuters. The aim of the reinforcements is to prevent small boats from attempting the dangerous Channel crossing. France also said it will send more police to patrol its borders with Spain and Italy.

English Channel between northern France and southern Britain | Source: Google Maps
English Channel between northern France and southern Britain | Source: Google Maps

The majority of the measures are on the French side to prevent boats from leaving in the first place, according to Reuters. French authorities say that since January 2020, they have intercepted dinghies carrying more than 7,500 people.

"Britain will help fund the measures, which also include financing more migrant shelters in France, and invest €62.7 million between 2021 and 2022, the countries said following a meeting between French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel," Reuters reported.

According to the joint statement, Britain is trying to make the country less attractive for asylum seekers. Moreover, it plans to enforce measures like sanctions on illegal migration and those who abet it, the statement said.

Read more: UK's tightening grip on migration results in little more than political muscle-flexing

Nationality and Borders Bill

The highly contentious Nationality and Borders Bill, introduced on July 6, seeks to further restrict the asylum application process and to clamp down on clandestine Channel crossings by people seeking refuge in the UK.

Insisting that the legislation was long overdue, Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed to take back control of UK borders after the country's Brexit departure from the European Union. "This bill will finally address the issues that have resulted in the broken system -- of over a long period of time -- of illegal migration," she told Parliament on Monday.

Last week, Patel said the aim of the legislation is to fix the "broken asylum system". While Patel often claims these policies are aimed at people smugglers and gangs, campaigners fear that vulnerable people fleeing violence and persecution will be hit the hardest. 

Dan O'Mahoney, the government's so-called Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, this week said the government's Nationality and Borders Bill would "protect lives and break this cycle of illegal crossings".

News agency AFP reported that under the legislation, the maximum sentence for migrants entering the UK unlawfully would increase from six months to four years. What's more, "convicted people-smugglers would face a life sentence."

But the bill, which is presently proceeding through Parliament, continues to be criticized by politicians and activists in British Parliament and on social media. The bill has yet to be approved by both houses of Parliament.

"People cross the Channel because they are out of options," Daniel Sohege, director of the human rights group Stand For All, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. "This is what happens when other routes are closed," he added, saying the new bill would make the situation "worse and more dangerous".

Crossing the Channel is dangerous given its dense maritime traffic, strong currents and constant wind. At its narrowest point -- the Strait of Dover -- the waterway is 33 kilometers wide and between 120 meters and 45 meters deep. Still, the number of irregular Channel crossings has risen sharply since late 2018. Last year, at least four people died in the body of water, while there were six deaths and three missing persons in 2020.

With Reuters, AFP, AP


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