MS Risk Blog

Migrant Crossings in English Channel

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In December 2018, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the migrant crossings in the English Channel to be a ‘major incident’ and appointed a gold commander to deal with the growing crisis.  On 31 December, the Home Office released the official figures on the number of migrants that have attempted to cross the Channel over the past few months. It has been recorded that in 2018, 539 migrants attempted to travel to the UK in small boats, with 434 in the last three months of the year and 42% intercepted by the French authorities.

The rising trend in migrant crossings in the English Channel has been attributed to a range of factors such as the conditions in the camps in France, and police intimidation that have pushed the migrants to attempt the perilous journey by sea. Charities have repeated flagged up the increasing intolerable conditions in the migrant camps in northern France, where the police conduct regular raids in which tents are destroyed, personal belongings disposed and even pepper sprayed used to disperse the population. It has been considered that such experiences fuel migrant desperation and have increased numbers willing to travel to the UK in small boats.  However, it has been noted that migrants that do attempt to reach the UK often have connections or family in the country, are already fluent in English or consider the UK a preferable option than remaining in France.

Furthermore, the uncertain future immigration restrictions that are likely to follow Brexit, have reinforced the sense of urgency as smugglers attempt to seize the opportunity before 29 March 2019. In addition, smugglers are exploiting new routes to the UK as it has become more difficult for migrants to smuggle themselves onto UK-bound vans and lorries or stow away on trains and larger ships used by ferry services. This has been largely due to the increased security measures in ports have been implemented following the dismantling of the ‘jungle’ camps around Calais. However, the availability of these new routes has been dependent on migrants being able to afford the smugglers fees, with others continuing to attempt previous routes.

Help Refugeeshave observed migrants from several countries attempting to cross the Channel. On 29 December, the 12 migrants found in a small boat off the coast of Kent were identified as being from Iran and Syria. The large number of Iranian migrants identified in the English Channel crossings, have been accompanied by a sharp rise in the number of Iranian nationals in Northern France. In the camps of Calais and Grande-Synthe there are currently 1,000 and 2,000 migrants. Field Manager Josh Hallam reports that in Grande-Synthe the migrants are mostly Kurdish people from Iraq and Iran and smaller groups from Pakistan and Sudan. While in Calais, mostly Iraqi Kurds, Iranians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Afghans and Sudanese. However, the number of migrants crossing by sea to the UK are a small fraction compared to the Mediterranean crossings that reached a total of 110,833 in 2018.

The 12 migrants found off the coast of Kent in December have led to the arrest of a the 33-year-old Iranian and a 24-year-old British man by the National Crime Agency in Pendleton, Greater Manchester on suspicion of arranging the ‘illegal movement of migrants’ across the English Channel during. While Javid has highlighted that the evidence has shown that there is organised criminal gang activity behind the illegal migration attempts by small boats across the Channel, it has admittedly been known to the British and French authorities for some time. The smugglers have been active in the camps for many years but there has been a need for more collaborative partnership between the British and French authorities in order to tackle the smuggling gangs, rather than the migrants.