Original article from Kent Live
The row over the UK's handling of refugees crossing the English channel into Kent has intensified in recent days following the announcement that Priti Patel would authorise the Border Force to turn back small boats in UK waters.
The move has been condemned by a wide range of organisations as potentially illegal, and many believe it may lead to unnecessary fatalities.
The French Interior minister has now weighed in on the dispute, hammering his opposite number Priti Patel's decision to go ahead with the policy.
According to Reuters, a letter from French interior minister Gerald Darmanin to the Home Office has been leaked to the British press, in which he states that "safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy".
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He has also stated that France will resist attempts to implement any form of the new policy that would be considered illegal, stating: "France will not accept any practice that goes against maritime law, nor financial blackmail," in a tweet posted on Friday (September 12).
Just yesterday, the French border patrol were forced to step in to rescue a dinghy headed for the UK that had encountered difficulties in the channel, according to France 24.
Six women and two babies were on board the boat, along with other asylum seekers, which had sent out a distress signal to appeal for urgent assistance.
Just yesterday (September 11), the body of a man who had drowned was recovered from the English channel, though it remains unclear if he was a person seeking asylum in the UK.
Bridget Chapman, the media lead for Kent Refugee Action Network, weighed in on the decision, echoing criticisms made by the French government: "We (KRAN) can't see any circumstances under which this proposal would be legal; it's not legal under internal law, or under the Geneva conventions.
"People have a right to enter the country by irregular means if their purpose is to seek asylum – and we know that the vast majority of the people in these boats are asylum seekers.
"Under international maritime law it's also not legal – because you have to safeguard life at sea, and if you come across a boat in distress, you have to do everything you can to safeguard life."
Boris Johnson's official spokesman rebuked this, insisting: “We are confident any approach we take will meet the requirements of the law.”
Ms Chapman further argued that many of the boats being used were unfit for the journey – and turning them back could increase risks of them sinking.
"These boats are already overloaded – they are completely unsuitable for making this journey and are usually low in the water or even taking in water," she continued.
KentLive uses the term people when referring to those who cross the Channel and arrive on our shores.
That's because, regardless of their status at the point of entry, those moving from one country to the other are human beings.
You will have seen them commonly referred to as migrants. This is not incorrect.
The UN Migration Agency defines a migrant as – any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of the person’s legal status, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what the causes for the movement are, or what the length of the stay is.
KentLive also refers to people in these circumstances as refugees.
The UN definition of refugees is – people who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.
"So to be nudging them backwards would be risking life – and it's absolutely disgraceful that anybody has suggested that this is a good idea."
A Home Office source told the Daily Mirror that people were already dying making the dangerous crossing, and the point of pushback is to deter those people from taking to dinghies in the first place.
However, Ms Chapman criticised this position, stating people returned to France will simply try again: "The idea that the French should be dealing with these people that are seeking asylum is ridiculous – because the vast majority of people that pass through France stay in France."
"If you did manage to get them back on French soil, then I would imagine that they would simply try to make the journey again – people are going to make this journey and we can't get away from that.
"Nobody's asking for any more than our fair share of the responsibility to look after people who are seeking sanctuary."
A deal signed between France and the UK in 2020 saw a rise in patrols in the channel and increased funding for technology aimed at increasing efficiency.
A further deal was struck in the summer of 2021, seeing the British government put in £54m and agreeing to share intelligence with the French border force, though it was met with criticism that the deal would have little impact.
Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont suggested it would not have an impact as the French coastline is too big, speaking on the BBC's Today programme in July: "The fact is, we've seen it before. Having more money, having more police officers, having more controls, will not prevent people to succeed in these crossing attempts.
"We have too many kilometres of shore to monitor."
More refugees are specifically coming to the UK via small boats, meaning for those of us in Kent, it feels like numbers are rising exponentially, as Kent's asylum system has struggled.
In real terms however, there has actually been no overall rise in the number of refugees coming into the UK, however, as entries via other routes have dropped off sharply as more people are entering via small craft.
Instead, more and more people are taking routes that specifically result in arrivals in Kent, and are much more visible to the general public, unlike routes such as stowing away on lorries or entering via plane.
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