In the last few days, over 300 migrants have made it across the English Channel from France to the UK. More than 100 were intercepted by French authorities before they got to set sail from the coast. One person was declared dead.
On Thursday, January 13, the UK Home Office (Interior Ministry) confirmed to the BBC that a further 270 migrants had managed to cross the Channel. These arrivals add to 96 who made it across on three separate boats on Monday, January 10. They were all brought ashore in Dover, on the south coast of England.
Despite the cold weather it appears that those hoping to cross the English Channel from the French coast remain numerous. According to figures compiled by the Press Association and the BBC, more than 28,000 migrants managed to cross the English Channel in 2021 -- more than three times as many as those who made it in 2020.
So far in January this year, the BBC reports that more than 450 people have crossed the Channel to the UK. The number of migrants who arrived on Thursday alone "is more than the entire total for January last year," the BBC wrote.
A series of rescues at sea
In the first week of January, the French authorities at the Marine Prefecture for the Channel and the North Sea (Préfecture maritime Manche et mer du Nord) put out severe weather warnings, trying to dissuade migrants from attempting the irregular journey to the UK. However, the first rescue of migrants they posted about took place on Monday, January 10. In the night from Sunday into Monday, the maritime authorities said they had found several small boats in distress in the Pas-de-Calais area.
A boat from the French navy picked up 26 migrants from one small boat and brought them back to Calais. The national lifeboat service found a further 30 off the coast of Dunkirk and brought them back to that port. Once on land, the migrants were taken care of by the border police and fire and rescue services.
On January 12 and 13, the French prefecture reported that the coast guard had picked up another boat with 34 migrants on board and had taken them to Dunkirk. A naval boat meanwhile picked up another 26 and took them back to Calais and Dunkirk.
Dead on arrival
On Friday, January 14, the French authorities went to the assistance of yet another migrant boat in difficulty. "At least one person is reported to be in the water," the press release read. The authorities sent several boats and a helicopter to the scene.
One unconscious person was picked up and brought straight on board one of the French vessels. "Later, after landing, that person was sadly declared dead," the press release further highlighted. Another 25 people were on board the boat, and five migrants were meanwhile picked up from a sand bank by the fire and rescue services during concurrent rescue operations.
These 30 people were reported to be "safe and sound" and were being looked after by French emergency services in Berck-sur-mer. An inquiry has been opened into the incident, stated the press release.
The UK's Nationality and Borders Bill
Since taking office, the British Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Priti Patel has repeatedly said that she wants to stop people from crossing the English Channel while cracking down on the "criminal gangs" which facilitate irregular means of migration full of danger.
The new Nationality and Borders bill currently making its way through the British Parliament is her latest attempt to fix the UK's asylum system, which she has declared to be "broken." However, the Conservative Party, of which she is a member, has been in office in successive governments since 2010, and hasn't tried to change the country's immigration guidelines to such a radical degree before.
The bill passed the lower House of Commons on December 9 and is currently in the upper House of Lords for legal review. It has to undergo three more stages there before passing to the final stages, which normally is only a formality if it passes both houses.
Priti Patel reiterated on Twitter that she hoped the bill would "speed up removal of failed asylum seekers ... introduce new maximum life sentences for people smugglers ... stop illegal arrivals gaining immediate entry into the asylum system if they traveled through a safe country [and] increase the maximum sentence for illegally entering the UK."
On January 5, Patel posted a Daily Mail story on her Twitter feed, saying that she hoped the bill would also stop the "immigration and asylum system being abused." The story detailed allegations of adults "posing as child asylum seekers" and said that individuals presenting as underage migrants could face "X-ray age checks" to determine their actual physiological age.
Jetskis in the Channel?
The British government has also talked about launching jetskis to strengthen patrols in the English Channel. Videos of the jetskis appeared on the Reuters news agency earlier this week: however, it is unclear whether they have actually been deployed.
In September, the Independent newspaper said they were being used in maneuvers with the intention of turning back migrant boats in the Channel, but it is unlikely that a jetski could be deployed so far from the UK shores unless the sea is calm.
The idea of turning back boats at sea has also been heavily criticized by human rights groups and the unions who represent the UK Border Force themselves, branding the plans as dangerous and illegal.
Britain meanwhile has promised to pay millions of euros to the French over the last two years to beef up security on the French coast in order to prevent irregular crossings. The numbers of those attempting to cross via lorry and Eurotunnel train have significantly reduced since that commitment, but the numbers of those attempting the sea route have meanwhile increased.
New plan much like old plan
Now the French government, which currently holds the EU's six-month rotating presidency, has proposed that the whole of the EU come together to negotiate an asylum and migration treaty with the UK, which no longer is part of the European Union.
According to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian, a senior French government official said that an EU-UK treaty would be designed to "open up a legal means of immigration with Great Britain, so people can legally go to the UK to seek asylum."
The French official added that such a treaty would also mean reciprocal agreements, indicating that British authorities would be able to send those refused asylum in Britain back to the EU country in which they first arrived. This process would resemble the current EU agreement, known as the "Dublin Protocols."
Since the UK left the EU, the island nation can no longer send asylum seekers directly back to France or any other EU country as they were able to do when part of the EU before Brexit. However, it is unclear to what extent the UK might be willing to sign up to the plans: In late 2021, following the death of 27 migrants in the Channel, relations once again became strained between Britain and France, ending in Priti Patel being uninvited from a conference of European ministers to discuss the problem of migrants crossing the Channel.
Last chance: Britain
In conversations, migrants told InfoMigrants in Calais in July 2021 that one of the main reasons they head to the UK in growing numbers is the fact that they are excluded from the Dublin Protocols. Many now regard the UK as a place where they can get their asylum claims heard without the fear of being deported to another EU country -- usually one they have already tried to leave.
For example, several Kurdish Iraqis speaking off the record, told InfoMigrants that they had received letters in Germany telling them they should leave the country and go back to Romania, where they had first had their fingerprints registered in the EU. Rather than risking being deported to Romania -- and potentially back to Iraqi Kurdistan -- they said they had decided to try moving on to the UK after Brexit.
Furthermore, with the UK not having any identity card obligation or civil registry like Germany, migrants think of the country as a place where it can be easier to find unofficial in long-established migrant communities, while remaining undetected for years.