TORONTO — Despite new border measures in Europe, a record number of migrants risked their lives to flee to the United Kingdom this year.
More than 10,000 people boarded flimsy, overcrowded boats in France in order to cross the English Channel and get a shot at a better life. This figure already surpasses the 8,400 crossings last year, and is wellabove the figures from 2019 and 2018.
Abdullah al-Badri, a stateless Bedouin from Kuwait, was gripped with fear as he stepped onto an inflatable dinghy in France.
“Twenty-three people inside the boat [of] six metres — it was horrible,” al-Badri said. “There were really strong waves and it started raining. Then, someone fell out of the boat and then we have to get him out and everyone gets scared.”
Although the channel is only about 30 kilometres, the journey can be perilous due to strong currents and crowded shipping lanes.
“I was saying to myself, ‘what’s going to happen?’ I’m going to die like the child from Syria,” al-Badri said, referring to Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy whose photo made global headlines after he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea along with his mother and brother in 2015. The family was attempting to get to Europe to reportedly seek asylum in Canada.
Al-Badri, who landed in Dover, U.K., is now seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.
Earlier this week, officials told Reuters that from January to July, police stopped 481 crossings, while 412 small boats that they know of successfully reached British shores. The U.K. Home Office, which is responsible for immigration and security, recorded 8,461 crossings last year. Both figures dwarf the 1,800 recorded in 2019, and 300logged in 2018.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, the refugee and migrant rights program director at Amnesty International U.K., called for changes to immigration policy to better address migrants who keep taking their chances at sea, as al-Badri did.
“You cannot claim asylum in this country unless you are physically present,” he told CTV National News. “Well, if that continues, these sorts of journeys will continue to be the means that people have to take.”
BORDER IS STILL POROUS: LAW ENFORCEMENT
The United Kingdom is currently paying France to beef up its security measures, including increasing coastal surveillance. But guards face an uphill task.
With more than 130 kilometres of beaches, sand dunes and cliffs, there’s simply too much huge territory to cover, police say, with experienced smugglers being quite adept at outrunning law enforcement.
“We adapt all the time and the migrants adapt to us,” Mathilde Potel, the deputy police chief for Calais, a migration hotspot, told Reuters. The border “is still porous. As long as there is a way through, there will be migrants coming to cross to England.”
Another officer said once the boat is out to sea, “it’s basically too late.” He said all law enforcement can do at that point is escort them.“It becomes a rescue mission.”
Lawmakers in the United Kingdom have vowed to make crossing the English Channel unviable, perhaps even a criminal offence.