Britain told to offer legal alternatives to Channel migrant crossings

Lack of asylum options is blamed for risky crossings after tragedy that killed 27

Inflatable boats used by migrants who crossed the English Channel are moved to a marina in Dover, England. Photo: Reuters

Britain is under growing pressure to open up legal migration routes as an alternative to dangerous boat crossings over the English Channel.

France blamed a lack of legal options for the risky migrant journeys that have multiplied this year, resulting in the deaths of 27 people last week.

One of the dead, Baran Nuri Muhamadamin, had a fiancé living in Britain but could not get a UK visa, leading her to make the crossing on a small, flimsy boat that deflated in the water.

France’s Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, said on Monday that people seeking asylum had “no other choice but to cross the Channel”.

Xavier Bertrand, a French presidential hopeful, went further by suggesting France should simply “let them take the ferry” and apply for asylum in Britain.

But UK ministers plan to harden, rather than soften, their stance on immigration, thereby delivering one of Brexit’s main goals.

Home Secretary Priti Patel responded to the disaster by urging the passage of a controversial bill to toughen punishments for illegal migrants.

She renewed Britain’s long-standing concerns about the patrols in northern France, partly financed by the UK, which have not brought a halt to the crossings.

Ms Patel is being urged to change course not only by France, but critics in Britain who say refugees should be welcomed to the UK.

It comes amid frustration that a promised resettlement scheme for Afghan citizens is yet to get off the ground, three months after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

Paul Blomfield, an opposition Labour MP, said constituents with Afghan relatives were being told to wait or apply for expensive visas.

There are “still no safe and legal routes for Afghans fleeing persecution on government advice,” he said on Monday.

Port of Dover officials move inflatable boats in the waterway between England and France. Photo: Reuters

Alf Dubs, a Labour member of the House of Lords, criticised those who raised security threats about the migrants.

“I do not see refugees coming here, fleeing for safety, as a terrorist threat to this country,” he said in a Lords debate on migration.

“Only a small proportion come here, but those who do we should welcome and give them a chance to resume their lives. I am disappointed at the negative thrust of what we heard.”

Britain is not alone in taking criticism at home, with migration set to be a hotly debated topic in the run-up to a French presidential election in April.

Mr Bertrand, a potential nominee of the centre-right Republicans, said Paris should tear up the 2003 accords that allow British border guards to block asylum seekers at French ports.

“We will stop seeing migrants take makeshift boats. We will let them take the ferry. It is €15; it will save them from racketeering,” Mr Bertrand told French radio.

“I don’t want these tragedies any longer, and I don’t want the inhabitants of the coast to be penalised any longer.”

His proposal led to criticism, including from former European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau, who compared it to the suspected ploy by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to push migrants towards the EU.

“Xavier Bertrand takes himself for Lukashenko and wants to manipulate migrants,” she said. “The smugglers say bravo and thank you.”

The French government said it would not drop the accords, but called on Britain to make itself less attractive to illegal migrants.

Speaking after a summit with EU ministers, Mr Darmanin blamed the flow of migrants on the strict asylum rules and a labour market favourable to undocumented workers.

Updated: November 29th 2021, 1:51 PM