On 9 August, the British government ordered a former royal navy member to make it impossible for migrants to cross the English Channel. The mission of Dan O’Mahoney, who has served in Iraq and Kosovo in the past, has been clearly outlined by the Ministry of the Interior: on the basis of a newly created post, it bears the primary responsibility for “making the canal impassable for small boat crossings”. In this way, the English Channel is to become an area in which migrants no longer dare.
In order to stop migrants, O’Mahoney is to work closely with France, intensify the work already begun, examine a strengthening of actions in France and introduce stricter measures and actions “to intercept ships at sea and return them to their starting point”.
The British Government also called on France to tighten controls on the French side of the English Channel. As the newspaper “Sunday Telegraph” reveals, Paris is asking for around 33 million euros for this.
British government tightens tone
Several hundred people, including children and pregnant women, have crossed the English Channel in the past week. In small boats they overcame the 33 kilometers between the French and British coasts. According to British media, 200 people arrived on the south coast of England on 6 August, and 130 the next day. In three days, a total of almost 500 people would have crossed the English Channel. According to figures from the “BBC”, some 4,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel and reached British soil since the beginning of the year. That’s more than in any year before. This is partly due to the good weather conditions that currently prevail. At other times of the year there is mostly fog over the passage. However, the strong currents remain dangerous. In addition, the English Channel is considered one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel (Conservative Party) called these figures “terrifying.” They are working to arrest and bring to justice the “criminals who facilitate these crossings.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Conservative Party) called the canal crossings “stupid, dangerous and criminal”. He, too, tried to portray the fight against illegal border crossings as a service to humanity: “There is no doubt that we are witnessing the activities of cruel and criminal gangs that risk the lives of these people by taking them across the English Channel and thus across a very dangerous body of water. And this in potentially unsuitable boats for maritime transport.”
France should act
To combat this, the British government under Johnson is primarily committed to Paris. It is the French who must prevent illegal migrants from entering the water in the first place, the tenor says. For some time, Johnson has long wanted the French government to step up its measures on the English Channel. The efforts made so far by France are too passive, which is why the strengthening of measures in France should be a priority. Patel had already accused France in mid-July during a parliamentary commission of not intercepting boats.
In the Daily Telegraph, British Immigration Minister Chris Philp was more specific: “The French must prevent these illegal immigrants from boarding a boat, and we must intercept those who do this and send them back (to France).”
Upgrade on both sides
According to the Sunday Telegraph, however, the French government is asking the British government for 33.2 million euros for the channel controls. In addition, the French Foreign Ministry assured that “the French authorities are fully mobilised to prevent these departures.” Additional personnel have been deployed to cope with the current influx of migrants, the ministry said.
Between January and July 2020, the number of migrants prevented from crossings and the number of migrants detained more than quintupled compared to the same period last year. In addition, four times as many boats and equipment were discovered on the French side of the English Channel.
The issue of migrants crossing has long been on the agenda of talks between France and the UK. More recently, the two powers have developed strategies for a common approach: a plan to combat illegal crossings at sea, which is currently being finalised and aims to strengthen controls at the coasts and in front of the main border crossings, and a French-British special unit based in Coquelles. The government in London also announced that it wants to involve the military more closely.
Crossing costs between 2000 and 3000 euros
For years, migrants used the Eurotunnel between Calais and Folkstone to reach the UK. Since the refugee crisis in 2015, however, controls in Calais have been tightened. In addition, there are the travel restrictions that were installed as a result of the Corona crisis. For example, smugglers are increasingly using the dangerous route across the English Channel to bring migrants from France to the UK. According to a reporter from “Euronews”, a crossing costs between 2000 and 3000 euros.
Despite the efforts and the build-up on both sides of the English Channel, the rush to the crossings is great: in the villages around Calais, hundreds of people are apparently still waiting to cross.