Sunday, 28 November 2021

Tragedy in the Channel

Tragedy in the Channel:

The poet Matthew Arnold in his poem Dover Beach wrote of the "turbid ebb and flow of human misery". Those words seem apt to describe the only too predictable tragedy of Wednesday 24 November when at least 27 lives were lost as people attempted to cross the Channel in a flimsy inflatable dinghy.

Tragedy at sea claims dozens of lives in deadliest day of Channel crisis | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian

Needless to say this would be a particularly dangerous crossing at the best of times and even more so in a completely inadequate vessel. The Straits of Dover is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with around 400 commercial vessels per day -

The Strait of Dover (

The numbers attempting this perilous journey

have increased markedly since 2018 -

How migrant Channel crossings have soared in last three years as small boat arrivals rise 8,700% since 2018 (

In 2021, almost 26,000 people have made the crossing

Number of English Channel crossings now three times 2020’s total | ITV News


There is a tendency to label those making the crossing as "illegal immigrants" or "economic migrants". Labels can have consequences so it is worth noting the terms (which I also discussed in an earlier post)-

Law and Lawyers: Crossing the Channel ~ some notes (

The term "migrant" is  not defined in international law. The Oxford University's Migration Observatory states that there is no consensus on a single definition of a "migrant".  

The term refugee is defined in international law by the 1951 Refugee Convention - Someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.  

The distinction between refugees and migrants is important  - New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants

Asylum seekers are those seeking the protection of the State to which they apply for asylum. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises (article 14) recognises the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution but it does not provide a right to asylum. Further, the Refugee Convention 1951 does not create a right of asylum for those seeking it.

Political reaction:

On 25 November, the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) "tweeted" a letter that he had sent to the French President (Emmanuel Macron). The letter caused a diplomatic row resulting in the UK Home Secretary (Priti Patel MP) being "disinvited" from a planned meeting about migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats / dinghies.

The letter may be read here

Boris Johnson on Twitter: "My letter to President Macron." / Twitter

and here is the BBC report about the "disinviting" of the Home Secretary

Migrant crisis: Priti Patel not included in Calais meeting - BBC News

Nevertheless, a meeting took place as reported at

EU ministers meet in Calais over Channel crisis but without UK (

This diplomatic spat is, regrettably, symptomatic of what appear to be poor relations in the post-Brexit era between London and Paris. (The on-going dispute over fishing is another example). Views about the letter vary from those agreeing that the French had every right to take offence to those who saw the letter as little more than a set of ideas aimed at preventing the Channel crossings. One of the more scathing commentaries was from David Allen Green writing on his Law and Policy blog - 

The unforced error by Boris Johnson of publishing the letter to the French President – The Law and Policy Blog (

A further political reaction came from Michel Barnier who is seeking election as French President. Barnier said that, if he becomes President, he will terminate the Treaty of Le Touquet (2003) which governs immigration between France and the UK

Michel Barnier calls on France to destroy border treaty with UK and let in asylum seekers (

Nationality and Borders Bill:

The current UK government was elected on a manifesto promising to control immigration including the introduction of an "Australian-style points-based immigration system". The manifesto stated that they see the Brexit leave vote as a vote to "take back control" of UK borders. 

A points-based system was introduced from 1 January 2021 - UK points-based immigration system: further details - GOV.UK (

A Nationality and Borders Bill is currently going through the House of Commons and had its 1st reading on 6 July and 2nd reading on 19 July (see Hansard). Official information regarding the Bill may be read via these links -

Nationality and Borders Bill - Parliamentary Bills - UK Parliament

Nationality and Borders Bill - GOV.UK (

Policy paper overview: Nationality and Borders Bill: factsheet - GOV.UK (

The Bill was preceded by a 6 week consultation "New Plan for Immigration" with the government only releasing its response on the day the Bill was presented to Parliament -

New Plan for Immigration - GOV.UK (

New plan for immigration: legal migration and border control strategy statement (accessible web version) - GOV.UK (

Part 2 of the Bill deals with Asylum. This post is not intended to be an analysis of the provisions. A legal opinion prepared for Women for Women Refugees, criticises the Bill as "harmful and discriminatory" towards women and comments that several of the clauses are likely to place the UK in breach of either the Refugee Convention or the European Convention on Human Rights.

The legal opinion by Stephanie Harrison QC and others is published by Garden Court Chambers - see

The Nationality and Borders Bill - Legal Opinion prepared by Garden Court Barristers for Women for Refugee Women | News | Garden Court Chambers | Leading Barristers located in London, UK

Further criticism of the Bill may be seen at -

Top police officers claim that the Nationality and Borders Bill will make it harder to prosecute human traffickers - Optimus Law


Discussion of any of this is made all the more difficult by false information that is widely in circulation.

The Guardian has helpfully published some data 

Asylum in the UK: the key numbers | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian

Notably, the UK does NOT receive more asylum applications than some other European States. Application numbers in German and France are higher.

More factual information is at

UNHCR - Asylum in the UK

House of Lords debate:

The House of Lords held a debate on 25 November 2021

Lords debates migrants arriving illegally - UK Parliament

Objection might be taken with the title of the debate since those making the crossing are not necessarily intent on entering the UK illegally. There is a right to claim asylum once a person reaches the UK but, since 2011,  the UK does not process applications made outside the UK - e.g. via a British Embassy.

The Lords debate was notable for those contributions which advocated the need for a safe route for asylum seekers to obviate the need for the dangerous sea crossing. For example, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard made the following points -

1. Overall refugee numbers are currently running at about half of where they were 20 years ago - UK is not the preferred destination in Europe - well down the list of preferred destinations

2. Small boat numbers are up because other routes have been made more difficult - official resettlement routes have been closed - e.g. the Syrian scheme, the Dubs Scheme, Dublin III.

3. The Home Secretary's asserted that 70% of channel crossers were economic migrants and not asylum seekers but that is NOT borne out by the facts. 61% of arrivals are granted asylum at the initial stage and 59% of the remainder are granted it after appeal.

There is a need for a safe route. Instead, the UK seeks to criminalise those who survive the peril of the seas and also those at Dover who try to help them.

Lord Kerr concluded - "Of course, we can go down that road. But if we do, let us at least be honest enough to admit that what drives us down that road is sheer political prejudice, not the fact, because the facts do not support the case for cruelty."


Events have shown that efforts by the UK, France and others to stem the numbers crossing the Channel have not been successful. The evidently poor relations between the governments of the UK and France are not helping the situation. Given the undoubtedly lucrative trade in people-smuggling, the present strategy is unlikely to make matters better. Without a policy reset so that a safe route becomes available it seems likely that the "turbid ebb and flow of human misery" will continue and the criminals engaged in people smuggling will continue to profit. At the time of writing and with the Nationality and Borders Bill before Parliament, the chances of such a reset appear to be minimal.


Law and Lawyers: Crossing the Channel ~ some notes (

What's the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker? (

One lesson of Brexit appears to be that "taking back control" of borders can, in practice, result in less control - see

By ‘taking back control’ of your borders, you can lose control of your borders – the lesson of Brexit – The Law and Policy Blog (

Help for people seeking asylum - Refugee Council

UNHCR - Asylum in the UK

Asylum support: UK rights and expectations - GOV.UK (

Boris Johnson planning to SCRAP Human Rights Act 'Reform needed' | Politics | News |

28 November 2021

Further links:

Following the meeting held on 28 November between France, EU representatives and others this appeared - UK’s ‘double talk’ on Channel crisis must stop, says French interior minister | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian and this France calls on Britain to do more on Channel migrant trafficking (

30 November - French PM to offer Boris Johnson EU migration deal after Channel deaths (

1 December - A pan-European solution is needed to prevent Channel deaths ( - article by Labour peer Lord Dubs

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