Child migrants clutch teddies as UK arrivals exceed 10,000 for this year

English Channel crossings resumed on Tuesday after three-day hiatus

A young girl believed to be a migrant is carried ashore by a security officer in Dover, Kent. PA
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Children holding teddy bears were carried ashore in England as the number of migrants who have crossed the English Channel is estimated to now exceed 10,000 for the year.

A large group of migrants arrived in Dover, Kent, on Tuesday. Among the group was a young girl in a woollen hat with a toy tucked into her life jacket, as well as a baby sucking a dummy and holding on to a yellow teddy.

The highly dangerous voyage from France crosses one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes using often unseaworthy vessels that can barely stay afloat.

It has become a political hot potato in Britain, where the government wants to limit migration but has a duty to asylum seekers. For the migrants, the English Channel is the last leg of a desperate journey that started in Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

Crossings resumed on Tuesday after a three-day hiatus, with the latest arrivals expected to push the total for the year to more than 10,000.

Officially, 9,988 people have reached the UK, and Tuesday’s new arrivals are not added to the list until Wednesday.

Migrants sit on the road during the evacuation of a migrant camp in northern France. AFP

A total of 28,526 people made the crossing in 2021, compared with 8,466 in 2020, 1,843 in 2019 and 299 in 2018, official figures show.

Three weeks ago, the figure ticked above 8,000 migrants — more than double the amount recorded for the same period last year, and more than six times that of the equivalent period in 2020.

The Conservative government’s recent efforts to deter people includes the plan to deport Channel-crossing migrants to Rwanda.

They say the Rwanda option is in play because human-trafficking gangs are making illegal profits on the backs of the desperate migrants.

Immediately after the Rwanda plan was announced, there was a lull in attempted voyages, sparking hope in government of a swift win.

But then the spring weather turned for the better, the winds dropped, and the sailings resumed.

The Ministry of Defence took over control of migrant operations in April. The government’s Nationality and Borders Bill — criticised by campaigners as an anti-refugee initiative because it makes knowingly arriving in the UK illegally a criminal offence and includes powers to process asylum seekers overseas — became law at the same time.

The Rwanda deal will involve the East African nation receiving asylum seekers deemed by the UK to be inadmissible, having arrived “illegally” under new immigration rules.

Refugee organisations, including the Refugee Council, Care4Calais and British Red Cross, criticised the Rwanda plan after it was announced.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the “draconian policies enshrined in the Nationality and Borders Bill and their Rwanda deal are doing little to deter desperate people jumping on boats because they do nothing to address the reasons people come”.

Mr Solomon called on the UK to have a “grown-up conversation with France and the EU about sharing responsibility”.

“We need a fair and humane asylum system, which means well thought-out, long-term solutions that address why people are forced from their homes, and provides them with safe routes to the UK,” he said.

Care4Calais tweeted criticism of the UK. “Refugees have escaped from the worst horrors in this world. When you’re risking your life, what else do you have to lose?” it said.

“When someone explains ‘even death wouldn’t stop me’ trying to get to the UK, it’s clear that even the threat of Rwanda won’t change anything.”

Updated: June 07, 2022, 3:29 PM
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