A diplomatic row erupted between Britain and France after a group of migrants died in the English Channel. After Brexit, arrangements for tackling the migrant crisis dissolved. Now, the UK government has to agree with France to reduce the number of migrants arriving in small boats. Boris Johnson’s immigration Plan
In a recent tragedy, 27 people drowned while crossing the English Channel to enter the UK. People smugglers send migrants to the UK, and the same tragedies have previously happened on other occasions. The English Channel (In French: La Manche) is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the island of Great Britain from northern France. The English Channel is 563 kilometres long and 240 kilometres wide, which joins the North Sea.
The narrowest part of the Channel is between Dover and Calais for about 45 meters. For many years, refugees and migrants have been crossing the English Channel to enter the United Kingdom. By the time of Brexit, the UK said it wanted to take back control of immigration. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s immigration plan post-Brexit has had enormous impacts on the safety of the migrants.
UK’s challenge regarding uncontrolled immigration
The UK Prime Minister had already announced that he was against uncontrolled immigration. He reiterated low skilled migrants were not welcomed in the country. Boris Johnson’s immigration plan aimed to end the country’s dependence on cheap and low skilled labour. Johnson emphasized that he would not go back to the old model of low wages labourers supported by unrestricted immigration. Boris Johnson’s immigration plan is based on the Brexit vote to take complete control of the UK’s borders. Outside the EU, Britain applies its policy on migrants and asylum seekers. The UK government wants to act alone, but it needs international cooperation to control the borders. Brexit has made the situation more difficult because there are fewer bilateral deals with the EU.
Britain wants an Australian immigration model.
The UK Home Office has introduced post-Brexit rules that prevent people from claiming asylum in the UK. Britain does not have any return arrangements with the EU and tries to discourage migrants from crossing the Channel. One of Boris Johnson’s immigration plans is to employ the Australian method.
The UK will return asylum seekers and migrants once they arrive. British government wishes to stop illegal migrants from entering the country to end human smuggling. Despite policies barring illicit migrants into the UK, some people still want to go there. Data shows that the number of small boats crossing the English Channel in 2021 is three times more than in 2020. Most of such ships move from the north of France near Calais or Dunkirk.
A failed immigration strategy
Boris Johnson’s immigration plan creates a hostile environment for asylum seekers. Any migrant who enters the UK is labelled as an illegal migrant and faces adverse treatment. Britain justifies that its aggressive behaviour makes migrants not risk their lives in the hand of the traffickers. The UK government’s Home Secretary has a pushback tactic to keep migrants away from the country. Experts, however, have argued that this tactic puts the lives of migrants at a greater risk. A few days ago, dozens of migrants who left France to enter the UK lost their lives. The UK government had already said migrants who arrive in small boats are economic migrants. And Boris Johnson’s immigration plan intends to return the economic migrants coming from safe countries.
Evading responsibility by the Europeans at the cost of people’s lives
Britain and France blame each other for the tragedy in the English Channel. The UK Prime Minister called on France to do more to dissuade migrants from crossing the Channel. Boris Johnson published an open letter on Twitter and blamed Macron for cancelling talks on the migrant crisis.
French President criticized Johnson and reiterated that leaders do not use Twitter or open letters to communicate. Britain had already accused France of acting indifferent over migrants coming from French shores. In a statement, Johnson said he and French President Emanuel Macron had agreed to prevent the crossings. Calais Mayor blamed Britain for the tragedy and said Boris Johnson’s immigration plan should be changed. France wanted to share responsibilities and asked Britain for full cooperation without political usages.
The lack of determination causes more deaths every year.
This Channel tragedy is not new in Europe, and in 2021, 1600 migrants died or were missing in the Mediterranean Sea. The English Channel is a border inside the continent where 35 migrants died or are missing in 2021. Human rights groups criticize European countries for not rescuing migrants from waters.
European countries blame smugglers while they do not give people the option of safe pathways to seek refugees. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said smugglers are criminals who put people’s lives at risk. His British counterpart Priti Patel said criminal gangs organize dangerous Channel crossings. The harsh living conditions in refugee camps force some refugees to choose smugglers. The UK and the EU, and other European countries have done a little to improve asylum conditions.
Agreement with France the only solution
Boris Johnson’s immigration policy is to proceed but in a disorganized way. Johnson’s government tries to prevent crossing the Channel and wants to handle the crisis. But instead of working together to stop dangerous boat crossings, both governments have blamed each other in recent days. Moreover, Brexit has caused several disputes in their bilateral relations, but Britain needs to talk to France.
The UK Prime minister’s posture towards French officials will not make France come to the negotiation table. There should be talks and agreements with France to solve the crisis. Perhaps, French officials should accept the return of migrants, and British officials should offer something instead. There could be safe and legal routes for migrants to cross the English Channel with a cap on numbers.
In a recent tragedy, dozens of people died, but London blames Paris and human smugglers. On the other hand, France blames Britain for not acting seriously to solve the issue. French officials excluded the UK government from a meeting on migrants. Boris Johnson’s immigration strategy has not worked to stop smuggling, neither made his Brexit promises. In 2020 Johnson said Brexit would enable Britain to take back complete control of the borders.
Johnson’s government, however, cannot control one part of the British border. Brexit has made it more difficult to manipulate people arrivals on British walls. Britain cannot return migrants to the EU countries while it is outside the bloc. Britain’s strategy is not effective enough to deter smugglers from risking migrants’ lives. The British government cannot stop smuggling and migrants’ death alone. Immigration is a global problem, and transnational cooperation can tackle the issue.