UK PM's Deterrence Strategies Won't Prevent Future English Channel Tragedies

What might help instead are safer migration routes alongside inclusive settlement programs for the refugees.

5 min read
UK PM's Deterrence Strategies Won't Prevent Future English Channel Tragedies

French authorities reported on Thursday, 25 November, that dozens of migrants – including one pregnant woman and three children – died by drowning on 24 November while attempting to cross the English Channel in an inflatable boat which capsized, BBC reported.

An Iraqi man and a Somali man survived, but are in critical condition and are still receiving treatment.

The deceased were mostly Kurdish people from Iraq or Iran who were trying to get into the United Kingdom from France.

The Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, and the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, have both expressed shock and grief about the incident, while promising to work together to prevent such future tragedies.

Officials of both Britain and France also claimed that the main responsibility for such tragedies "lies with the smugglers", which were described as "mafia-like organisations in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain" profiting off human trafficking", as quoted by The Guardian.

However, after the public formalities had been exchanged, Johnson wrote a letter to Macron in which he asked France to take back the people who had risked their lives while entering the UK in small boats via the English Channel.

He also made this letter public by tweeting a copy.

This letter has angered France so much that it rescinded an invitation to Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel for an inter-ministerial meeting on 28 November in Calais, France, that would seek to find solutions to address the migrants issue.

The meeting will therefore only consist of officials from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and the European Commission.

"We consider the British prime minister’s public letter to be unacceptable and contrary to the discussions we had with our counterparts," an anonymous source in the French government told The Guardian.

"Making it public made it even worse," said Gérald Darmanin, the Interior Minister of France.

Johnson's Attempts at Deterring Migrants 

In his letter to Macron, Johnson suggested five steps to Macron to prevent future tragedies similar to the one that occurred earlier this week.

However, the British prime minister's idea of a solution was to deter migrants from using the English Channel to enter the United Kingdom.

Johnson's five steps, which he has also spelled out in a series of tweets, are the following -

  • Ensuring stronger British-French patrols to prevent more boats from leaving France.

  • Using advanced radar technology and sensors to track such boats.

  • Joint airborne patrols and maritime patrols in both British and French waters.

  • Intensifying joint intelligence operations to arrest human traffickers on both sides of the English Channel.

  • Going back to bilateral returns agreement along with negotiations about coming to an UK-EU returns agreement.

None of these steps are aimed at actually helping migrants achieve what they truly set out to achieve, which is settling down in a safe country of their own choice.

The logic that Johnson is using is that if the UK maintains a tough anti-migration policy, then migrants, especially women and children will not put their lives at risk by allowing human traffickers and "criminal gangs" to conduct their business.

Make it as hard as possible for migrants to get on a boat and return those who have already made it to the UK, and then other migrants won't risk getting on a boat in the first place because they will get deterred from pursuing a hopeless objective, right?



Why Deterrence Won't Work 

Boris Johnson is using a very simple logic for a situation that is very complicated.

Despite the tragic news of the deaths, thousands of people in Iraqi Kurdistan are still preparing to leave for the UK, according to officials in the Kurdish-populated part of Northern Iraq.

Additionally, people have have not stopped trying to cross the Channel.

On Thursday, just a few hour after news of the capsized boat spread, two other boats carrying 40 people reached Dover, BBC reported.

Just one week ago, a camp consisting of 1,500 migrants was cleared in Dunkirk in Northern France.

Clearly, no matter how stark the dangers of migration appear and regardless of how brutally refugees are treated, they are just not deterred.

Iraqi Kurds are fleeing the region due to extremely poor economic conditions. Since 2014, the region has seen high unemployment and low wages. 98 per cent of university graduates are unemployed, according to Bloomberg and if someone is lucky to find a job, it typically last only for a few weeks.

"I'll do what I need to [because] if I stay here I'm going to drown in debt anyway", said an anonymous person who recently graduated, The Guardian reported.

"If we get there we’ll be respected and can live our lives. If we stay, we won’t have either respect or life", the graduate added.

However, desiring to live a life of dignity is only one part of the story.

According to research, a major reason why migrants wish to travel to the UK is familial ties.

Researchers for the International Health Journal conducted a survey of 402 migrants camped in Calais and concluded that about 1 in 10 wanted to stay in France, while more than 80 per cent wanted to leave for the UK.

The remaining had no preference.

And of those who wanted to reach the UK, 52 per cent claimed that they wanted to go because they had a family member already present in the UK.

"They have a connection to the UK, they speak some English, they have family, they have friends and people in their networks. They want to come and stay and rebuild their lives," according to Enver Solomon, who heads the Refugee Council (a UK based human rights group that seeks to help refugees and asylum seekers), BBC reported.

Therefore, with a combination of having a family member present in the country and the desperation to lead a respectable life, Johnson's strategy is unlikely to deter migrants from pursuing a dangerous journey to the UK such as the one through the English Channel.

What seems to be the only solution then is to put safer migration routes in place alongside an inclusive settlement program.

If the road to Britain for these refugees is made clear and secure, not many would employ a dangerous plan such as getting on an inflatable boat on the Channel to reach their destination.

If Boris Johnson really wants to end the human trafficking business and if he really cares about refugees, his solution can't be making it harder for refugees to carry out their journey.

That will only embolden human traffickers to employ more dangerous methods to conduct their business, putting refugees at equal or more risk than they already are.

This kind of a crisis calls for a humanitarian solution, not an aggressive and exclusive one.

A little bit of compassion might do a lot of good.

(With inputs from BBC and The Guardian)

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