5 Ways To Help Prevent Further Tragedy In The English Channel

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Tragedy struck in the English Channel on Wednesday night when 27 people trying to get to the UK died as their dinghy sunk – prompting both Britain and France to reevaluate their approach to the refugee crisis.

Home secretary Priti Patel defended the UK’s efforts to deter people from crossing the dangerous Channel on Thursday and said there is “no quick fix”.

She already promised to help the French authorities strengthen their border patrols and has now offered to send British officers to join their French counterparts along France’s border.

But, as Wednesday’s catastrophe was the deadliest day on record for Channel crossings, should France and the UK adopt a new strategy altogether?

Here’s what the experts think need to be done.

1. Open up safer routes

Campaigners believe many people are driven to take the dangerous route across the English Channel – escorted by people trafficking gangs – because there are no other options.

Gunes Kalkan, the head of campaigns at Safe Passage International, told The Guardian: “We’re calling for the government to scrap the cruel and unworkable nationality and borders bill and instead open safe routes to save lives.

“Safe routes better protect refugees, reunite families and support people to rebuild their lives welcomed by our communities.”

This could include using ferries or planes to fly people across the Channel rather than weak dinghies which can easily capsize or sink.

Louise Calvey, head of resettlement for Refugee Action also said “increasing militarisation” of the Channel last year would be unlikely to deter people anyway, as they will be pushed towards more dangerous means of transport.

2. Create safe access to asylum procedures in France and the UK

Currently, people waiting to hear back from their asylum plea – or those who have had it rejected – are placed in detention centres. There are six in the UK at the moment, but the UNHCR has said detention centres should be a last resort for countries.

There are concerns that Patel’s upcoming nationality and borders bill will only make it more difficult for people to seek asylum in the UK.

Steve Valdez-Symonds from Amnesty International told The Guardian: “Ministers ought to be working constructively with the French authorities to provide safe access to asylum procedures on both sides of the Channel.”

3. Bring back resettlement schemes

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People granted protection in the UK through resettlement schemes

PA GraphicsPress Association Images

The number of people granted protection through UK resettlement schemes has dropped drastically since 2017.

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British Red Cross’ refugee and asylum policy manager Jon Featonby called for the “restarting of the resettlement programme and the protection of existing reunion routes” last October when speaking to the Financial Times.

Yet, as home office figures show, the UK has helped only 1,171 refugees since the first Covid lockdown back in March 2020, excluding the number of Afghanistan evacuations the UK helped with.

4. Restart humanitarian aid

Most people trying to enter the UK to seek asylum come from war-torn areas.

According to the Refugee Council, 91% of people arriving to the UK came from countries where human rights are abused.

Britain could help the refugee crisis by tackling the source of the crisis, but, according to Amnesty International, “wealthy countries quite simply aren’t keeping their high-profile promises to fund aid for refugees abroad”.

The UK even announced a cut in humanitarian aid in 2021 from 0.7% of gross national income to just 0.5%.

The government says this is a temporary decision, but it won’t be adjusted again until 2024 or 2025.

It may not sound like a lot, but the cut has had a major impact.

The UN’s family planning agency lost 85% of its UK funding for family planning – which equates to around £130 million per year – while the UN’s children fund (Unicef) lost about 60% of its funding from the UK.

UNAIDS has lost 80% of its funding from the UK as well.

This will hit some of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters including Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, meaning people in those countries are more likely to leave.

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Refugees at the Poland-Belarus border trying to enter Europe

Sergei Bobylev via Getty Images

5. Work together with regional countries

The UK and France have allegedly agreed that they need to work with countries across Europe to help prevent tragedy in the English Channel, by stopping people from even getting to French waters in the first place.

Gerhard Hoffstaedter, an anthropology lecturer from the University of Queensland, and Sara Riva from Griffith University, wrote for The Conversation explaining how pacts with neighbouring nations would help with the refugee crisis.

They claimed: “A regional refugee compact would shift the focus away from border protection and deterrence and instead ensure refugees receive the protections they need in transit and on arrival in host countries.”

The UK already receives only a third of the asylum applications that France receives and 1% of the four million refugees who have flocked to Turkey.

Working with neighbouring nations means they could have a united effort when it comes to manage large groups of people looking for somewhere else to live, rather than shifting the blame as the UK and France have been since Wednesday’s tragedy.