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‘Militarisation’ of UK borders blamed for 296 deaths as more migrants reach UK

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent
·4-min read

The evolution of border security in and around the English Channel has been branded a “history of death” that has seen nearly 300 people lose their lives.

Under successive French and UK governments, responses to the migrant crisis have become increasingly militarised, forcing people to resort to more dangerous routes, a new report claims.

Calais has been turned into a “murderous border zone”, while the Home Office response to small boats crossings has grown to “monstrous proportions”, it argues.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
More people thought to be migrants were brought to Dover on Thursday (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The report – believed to be the first of its kind in English – documents nearly 300 border-related deaths in and around the English Channel since 1999.

Its publication comes as more people were brought to Dover on Thursday.

Mael Galisson, from Gisti, a legal service for asylum seekers in France, wrote the original report in French which has now been translated and updated.

He said: “Crossing strategies evolve according to the level of securitisation of the border.

“The more a crossing point is securitised, and thus inaccessible, the higher the risks and the need for border-crossers to have recourse
to a ‘third party”, a smuggler.”

Migrants
Several hundred people have successfully made the journey across the Channel this month (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He gave the example of the Eurotunnel, where he says the death toll rose after access to the motorway was made more difficult, and to more recent trends during the pandemic.

“In 2020, the dramatic drop in lorry and air traffic because of Covid-19 has led to a corresponding increase in attempted sea crossings in small boats, organised by commercial smugglers who charge up to £3,000 for the passage and then force passengers to steer the boats,” he said.

“Dozens of those forced to pilot boats have been arrested as people smugglers, and 10 people have died in 2020 trying to cross the Channel in small boats – or even by swimming.”

Frances Webber, vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), said: “These deaths are not ‘natural’ nor ‘tragic accidents’ but man-made, created by policies which do not merely close borders but also erect ever more obstacles to safe travel for the most vulnerable.

“Military-style solutions don’t solve humanitarian problems.

“The history of the securitisation of the English Channel is a history of death.

“So why do we allow the Government to keep on along the same path?”

The report, a collaboration between the IRR, the Permanent People’s Tribunal London steering group and Gisti, is entitled Deadly Crossings And The Militarisation Of Britain’s Borders.

Fatalities in 2020 have included the deaths of a Kurdish-Iranian family when their migrant boat sank last month.

On the Kent coast on Thursday, more people were seen arriving in the UK after crossing the Channel.

Wrapped in blankets against the November chill, several people were seen being helped to disembark from a Border Force patrol boat.

While deteriorating conditions in the latter part of 2020 have seen a drop in crossing attempts, several hundred people have successfully made the journey this month.

Numbers of people making the dangerous crossing aboard small boats have rocketed this year, with more than 8,000 reaching the UK, according to data analysis by the PA news agency.

Also on Thursday, the National Crime Agency (NCA) announced that two more people had been arrested as part of an investigation into a suspected criminal network involved in supplying inflatable boats to people smugglers.

Officers believe the group were involved in the purchase of at least six vessels in the UK, which have subsequently been moved to France or Belgium.

Three of these boats have been recovered in the UK, having been used to bring migrants across the Channel.

An 18-year-old woman, a Lithuanian national, was detained at an address in The Cheviots, Hastings, while a 20-year-old Syrian man was also arrested at an address in London Road, St Leonards-on-Sea.

The full report can be read at www.irr.org.uk/article/deadly-crossings.