That which is morally wrong cannot be politically right
Updated 1 February 2023: Gov.uk: Leadership of small boats operations returns to the Home Office
The Small Boats Operational Command (SBOC) will bring together the government’s response to small boats with 730 additional staff.
Home Secretary tells The Telegraph the party’s reputation for competence is ‘on the line’ and crossings must be tackled to win election
14 December 2022: Guardian: Channel tragedy shows hardline policies will not deter those desperate to reach UK
Suella Braverman doubles down on government plans after four people die risking everything to cross Channel
After the screeching rhetoric of Tuesday afternoon – when Conservative MPs cheered Rishi Sunak’s plans to deport “illegals” who arrive in the UK without any formal hearing – on Wednesday came the gut-wrenching reality.
Four people died risking everything to reach the UK from France. Grainy footage obtained by Sky News showed more than 40 desperate people, illuminated by a helicopter’s beam, struggling to clamber out of a twisted black dinghy on to a boat in freezing temperatures.
Witnesses said among the survivors were people from Afghanistan and Iraq – two countries from which millions of people continue to flee because of war and persecution.
It was a reminder that even in temperatures of -4C people are ready to risk their lives to get to the UK, and will not be deterred by hardline policies.
25 November 2022: Utopia 56: Shipwreck of November 24, 2021 – 31 drowned hopes
On November 24, 2021, around 2 p.m., a fishing vessel saw dozens of bodies floating in the icy waters of the English Channel. One by one, the bodies are fished out dead. At least 27 people drowned, four are still missing and two survived. A year ago there was the deadliest accident on the Franco-British border since the lifeless bodies of 39 Vietnamese exiles were found in a truck in 2019.
Kazhal, Hadiya, Maryam and all the others had left the French coast on an inflatable boat the day before around 10 p.m. Fleeing conflict and misery, everyone hoped to reach England safe and sound. Some to find their family, their fiancé, there, others to flee the reception conditions in Europe and many to hope to work there in order to support their families back home. Faced with the impossibility of a safe crossing, Mhabad, Rezhwan, Mohammed and the others turned to the crossing networks.
Around 2 a.m., in the dark of night, the boat began to take on water. The recordings of French calls for help, revealed by Le Monde on November 13, 2022, are chilling. They prove that many distress calls were received by the French emergency services and treated with contempt. Calls were also made for British help. These calls did not lead to the rescue of this boat, neither from the French nor from the British. They died by drowning in freezing water.
“We all held hands until the end,” says Mohammed, a survivor.
Pshtiwan, Shakar, Fikiru and the others came from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Somalia or Vietnam. These people had crossed mountains, deserts, seas, endured violence, thirst and hunger, they had traveled between 3,000 and 10,000 km for months or years to arrive there, on the French coast, under a tent, 33 km from their objective. Twana, Mubin and the others were between the ages of 6 and 59, and had left their parents, sisters, brothers and friends to come to this.
The political reactions are linked: “France will not let the Channel become a cemetery”, launches Emmanuel Macron the day after the sinking. It’s too late.
On November 28, 4 European Interior Ministers meet urgently in Calais at the request of Gérald Darmanin for, according to him, “a meeting devoted to the fight against illegal immigration and smuggling networks”.
Since that day, there have been 1,712 evictions from camps on the northern coast, hundreds of tents confiscated, several thousand police and gendarmes mobilized, a Frontex plane deployed to deter and drive away. Since that day, trenches have been dug, trees cut and hundreds of rocks have been scattered to avoid the installation of camps and hinder the work of associations.
Since that day, more than 42,000 people have crossed the Channel in makeshift boats according to the British Ministry of Defence. Thousands of people embark on precarious boats and as many have had to survive in informal camps on the French coast, without water, without electricity, without rights. Since that day, more than 7,200 people have been rescued at sea, according to the maritime prefecture, then, for the vast majority, abandoned on the French coasts, soaked and traumatized. At least 18 people died at the border, including six who drowned and one who allegedly committed suicide.
“Every morning in Calais, there is a new event. We live knowing that our friends who are with us today may not be with us tomorrow. Death is in our eyes, fear and anxiety do not leave our minds,“testified Yasser’s friends following his death on September 28, 2021, hit by a truck.,
Faced with these realities, the policies carried out are violent and absurd.
As the 2021 report of the parliamentary commission of inquiry into migration indicates, 85% of the state budget on the Franco-British border in 2020 was allocated to the repression of people in a situation of migration. Or 100 million euros used to expel, prevent, harass.
The new Franco-British agreement, signed on November 14, only confirms this security logic. By allocating ever more resources to the police services, the British and French authorities are pursuing their desire to make this border area a fundamentally hostile environment for exiles. However, contrary to the aspirations of the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, this border will never become impracticable (“unviable“). The proliferation of obstacles to crossing this border, via barriers, video surveillance or police patrols, only increases the risks taken by exiles trying to cross. This also contributes to strengthening the hold of the networks of smugglers, which have become essential for crossing this border.
After thousands of articles around the world, hours of press conferences and television sets pointing out the consequences of transit networks without ever mentioning the causes, the world has now turned its eyes away from this shipwreck, leaving the situation to persist tirelessly.
For us, French, Belgian and British associations, collectives and researchers, in the name of the law and our values, it is unthinkable to allow this situation to continue without doing anything.
All the necessary means must be implemented in order to open safe passageways to those who wish and to welcome with dignity all the people present on French and British territory. Welcoming people fleeing the war in Ukraine has shown us that solutions do exist.
In memory of these 31 women, men and children, and the 325 other people who have lost their lives at this border since 1999, the French and British governments must open their eyes and recognize their responsibility. Their stubbornness in ignoring and neglecting the human rights of people exiled on their borders has led to these tragedies and will lead to others. States must put an end to the humanitarian and political crisis for which they are responsible. The families of the victims and civil society demand that light and justice be shed on the shipwreck of November 24, 2021.
Let’s honor our dead and build hospitality.
Migrant Voice: “A year ago I crossed the Channel in a dinghy. Three days later, 32 people died trying to do the same”
One year ago, on 24 November 2021, 32 people died trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable dinghy. A new ITV documentary shows that British and French authorities, each assuming the other would send help, passed the buck as the migrants repeatedly asked for help and drowned. Nadine*, a Syrian woman who made the same journey only three days before the tragedy and who survived her own boat sinking during a previous attempt, tells her story to Migrant Voice.
When I learnt about the tragedy, I had been in the UK for only three days. I was only a year older than Mariam Nouri, who was the first victim to be named. I, too, had travelled on a dinghy from Calais that sank, only reaching the UK on my third attempt. I survived. But I could have been on the boat in which Mariam Nouri died.
I come from Daraa, the Syrian city where the revolution started in 2011. When it became too dangerous to stay, my parents paid for a smuggler to get me out of the country. There was no other choice if I wanted to survive. Like Mariam and so many others, I arrived in Calais hoping to cross the Channel and reach the UK.
I have family members in the UK who could support me once I arrived: far from home and unable to return, I wouldn’t be all alone. I speak some English, so I can get by. And I thought women’s rights were respected in the UK. This is why I didn’t stop in France.
On the evening of my first attempt at crossing the Channel, in early November, the weather was bad and we ran out of fuel. We had been at sea for four hours when we called the smugglers, then had to wait three more hours until they picked us up. Eventually we were taken back to Calais.
Three days later we tried the second time. We left Calais at 2am. The air was cold. There were 18 of us in a tiny dinghy. We were sitting on top of each other, and I was terrified. We asked the smuggler to reduce the number of people on the dinghy, but he didn’t listen. The boy driving the boat couldn’t have been over 14.
At around 3.30am we saw a red light and the smuggler told us we were in British waters. We called the British coastguard, but were told we were still in international waters and they couldn’t help. They sent a helicopter, which flew over us. I took off my hijab and waved it but the helicopter didn’t stop.
Then the boat started to deflate. Water began coming in, filling the dinghy. We rapidly went below the waterline. I was swallowing seawater and throwing up. I had water in my nose and ears. In quick succession, four large waves crashed onto us.
It was panic. Everyone was screaming and fighting. The temperature was below zero. The water was freezing. The men started arguing with each other. We were cold and so scared. We called the smuggler to alert the French authorities. One of the two other women on the dinghy called her parents to tell them we were drowning. A first, they didn’t believe her because the smuggler had told them she had arrived in the UK. Finally, she convinced her parents to call for help. My own dad called the British authorities.
The smugglers don’t see us as human beings, only as a source of money. Before my first attempted crossing, they lied to me. They told me it would be easy, that I would be at sea for only four hours. It was all lies, to convince desperate people to pay them.
At 2pm we still had received no help. It had been almost 12 hours since we started sinking, and we were losing hope. For hours I was crying, trying to bale out the dinghy. I can’t swim, and I remember thinking, “This is it.” I saw my whole life flash before me. I really thought I was going to die.
As we were sinking, three different boats approached us. They all told us they could not help, but took photos. Finally, at around 3pm, a larger tourist ship arrived, and threw us ropes so we could clamber aboard.
Climbing was difficult, and many of us fell back into the water or the dinghy. I climbed half way, fell, hit my face and lost consciousness.
I was rescued and taken onto the ship, where I was given tea. The people were very nice. We were all taken back to Calais. I don’t even know if we all survived that night.
In Calais, the police were waiting. They wrapped us in blankets and took us back to the camp. I went to stay in a hotel and got ill, because of what I had experienced and the seawater I had drunk. My whole body was swollen and I was vomiting blood. Luckily, a woman found me and took me to the hospital. For five days I was in and out of hospital. I felt so bad.
On 21 November I tried to cross again. I had no choice. I was so terrified I couldn’t even think about it – I just did it.
This time there were 43 of us on a boat built for 30. There were seven other crossings on that day, I heard. We left in the afternoon and it got dark quickly. There were no life vests in the boat: only 10 lifebuoys, “for the children,” the smuggler told us. “You adults can swim and save yourselves if you sink,” he said.
I saw a helicopter and flashed my phone light so it would notice us. At 6pm we called the authorities for help. A small British boat arrived at 7.30pm and ferried three or four of us at a time to a bigger vessel waiting a little further away.
We were all scared and wanted to be first onto the boat. The rescuers became annoyed and rude and one told a woman: “Sit down, you donkey.”
In the meantime, we were panicking, afraid we would sink and drown while we waited. Eventually we were all rescued, taken to Dover, and then to another site — I don’t know its name — where they put us in tents.
They took all our belongings, even my earrings, and gave us sandals and a tracksuit. They didn’t have a clean veil, so gave me a hat. We had to provide our details – name, date of birth, and fingerprints. It took the whole night and finally, at 11pm the day after, I was placed in a hotel in northern England.
It’s been a year and I’m still waiting for my asylum application to be processed. I’m taking English classes, but I’m not allowed to work. Back home I was a nurse. I’d like to go back to studying and working.
I have received no therapy or counselling to help deal with my trauma. I wake up at night, crying, thinking about what I went through. I haven’t recovered.
When I heard of the boat sinking only three days after I made my journey, I cried for the people on it. I cried for Mariam. I know what they felt in the last moments of their lives, because I felt that, too. I could have been on that boat. I could have been Mariam.
I want my life back. I want to study and work, I want respect and dignity. Right now only the richest can afford visas to the UK. We need safe routes to make people’s journeys easier and safer, so no one has to risk their life and go through what I did.
* not her real name.
Migrant Voice thanks the anonymous photographer who allowed us to use their photo for this article.
Updated 16 November 2022: PCS Union:
PCS and Care4Calais have today set out a new policy to address small boat crossings in the Channel and proposed a humane alternative to Rwanda deportation. Read the plan in full: https://sforce.co/3E9LMG1 #SafePassage #StopRwanda
Care4Calais and Stand Up To Racism event: 24 November, 6pm, outside Westminster Abbey at Parliament Square
On 24 November, 32 lives were lost in the Channel when British and French authorities ignored desperate calls for help as the boat began to capsize.
We will never let the lives that were lost on the 24 November 2021 be forgotten. For the victims and their families, we demand justice.
Stand Up To Racism, Care4Calais and the TUC are organising a vigil to take place on 24 November, 6pm, outside Westminster Abbey at Parliament Square. We will say the names of those lost, and gather to condemn the racist hostile environment that is being intensified by Suella Braverman and the government.
We say #AllRefugeesWelcome
Join Us there.
We demand answers to why French and British authorities failed desperate people who came asking for help.
We demand to know when the results of the Article 2 Inquiry will be made public to give answers to the families who have already waited a year.
We can demand an end to the poisonous rhetoric used by our politicians – calling innocent refugees ‘illegal migrants’ or, worse, ‘an invasion’ – which breeds fear and division.
We demand that the government changes its approach to Channel migrants. All the evidence shows that the overwhelming majority are in genuine need of our help, and if their claims were processed they would be granted asylum.
We call for safe passage to allow these refugees to claim asylum in Britain without risking their lives in the Channel.
We call for their claims to be processed quickly so they can become a valuable part of our communities, secure work and contribute to the success of our country.
On behalf of the victims of the 24 November 2021 and their families, we demand change.
We demand that the division and fear of anti migrant rhetoric used by political leaders is replaced with the kindness, compassion and empathy that people and communities across Britain show everyday to refugees.
Updated 12 November 2022: Guardian: UK and French coastguards ‘passed buck’ as 27 people drowned in Channel
Crucial hours wasted debating who should rescue dinghy carrying 34 passengers, ITV documentary reveals
UK and French emergency coastguard services spent crucial hours passing the buck about which of them should rescue a stricken small boat trying to cross the Channel last November, instead of dispatching a crew to save the 34 people onboard, a documentary reveals.
Most of the migrants subsequently drowned in the worst maritime disaster in the Channel for 30 years.
The revelations come at a time when Channel crossings in small boats have reached record levels, with about 40,000 people having crossed so far this year.
The documentary, The Crossing, part of ITV’s award-winning Exposure series, has gained access to documents that provide new evidence about the fatal journey of the 34 passengers onboard the overcrowded dinghy. At least 27 people died, with five still missing and two survivors.
Updated 30 October 2022: BBC: Channel migrants: Nearly 1,000 people cross in single day
Almost 1,000 migrants crossed the English Channel in 24 small boats on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence says.
It brings the total number of migrants making the journey from France so far this month to 6,395.
Government figures collated by the BBC show 39,430 people have crossed on small boats so far this year, compared with 28,461 who arrived in 2021.
Conditions at a migrant processing centre in Manston have been described as “wretched”.
The Ministry of Defence said 990 people had made the crossing from France on Saturday.
David Neal, independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, visited the site at Manston Airport on Monday and warned it had already passed the point of being unsafe.
He told MPs he had written to the home secretary about the dangerous conditions at the centre, run by the Home Office.
It was designed for no more than 1,600 people but Mr Neal said there were 2,800 living there on the day he visited.
Updated 29 October 2022: Guardian: Braverman’s secret meetings with ‘anti-woke’ MP flagged by officials before she quit
Civil servants say there was ‘significant disquiet’ over home secretary Suella Braverman’s dealings with Tory rightwinger John Hayes
Home Office officials raised concerns over a series of secretive meetings Suella Braverman held with an influential rightwing backbench MP weeks before she was forced to resign over leaking sensitive information to him, the Observer has been told.
In addition, sources have claimed that the home secretary appears to have instructed officials to look at potentially implementing hardline proposals cooked up by a rightwing thinktank that would in effect prohibit “genuine refugees” from settling in the UK, a move that threatens an even more uncompromising approach to asylum seekers.
Senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say even before she was forced to quit there was already significant disquiet over Braverman’s dealings with Sir John Hayes, leader of the “anti-woke” Common Sense Group of rightwing MPs.
The pair had held a number of meetings in the Home Office’s Marsham Street HQ after she became home secretary for the first time last month.
Weeks later, Braverman stood down after admitting leaking sensitive government information to Hayes and his wife via her personal email address. She was reinstated by Rishi Sunak days later.
“There’s a dynamic around her leaking stuff. Civil servants had been raising concerns about her meetings with that backbencher [Hayes]; she was having them at Marsham Street,” a Home Office source said.
A separate Whitehall source said Hayes spoke openly to parliamentary colleagues about being sent sensitive material on immigration policy from Braverman.
Furthermore, the Observer has been told that before her resignation, Home Office officials were tasked by Braverman to study a report by the rightwing Policy Exchange thinktank with a view to possibly implementing its recommendations in an attempt to tackle Channel crossings.
Entitled Stopping the Small Boats: a “Plan B”, the report states: “Genuine refugees would be resettled in a safe state other than the UK,” a move that would appear at odds with the UN 1951 refugee convention of which Britain was a founding signatory.
The report advocates the deportation of asylum seekers arriving by small boat should not be confined to Rwanda.
It states: “People attempting to enter the UK on small boats will be deported to a location outside the UK whether the Channel Islands, sovereign bases in Cyprus or Ascension Island” where their asylum claims will be considered.
One of the report’s authors is Simon Murray, who was appointed a Home Office minister responsible for “migration and borders
28 October 2022: Open Democracy: Braverman dismisses recommendations of asylum inquiry that took 2 years
The Home Affairs Committee blames the Home Office for the crisis. The home secretary rejected all its suggestions
Suella Braverman has refused to accept the findings of a report by cross-party MPs that found internal failings rather than a rise in migrants crossing the Channel are to blame for the breakdown of the asylum system.
The Home Affairs Committee said the government had today rejected all the recommendations it made in a damning report published in July following a two-year inquiry into the small boats crisis.
The report concluded that the government’s response to the crisis has been “characterised first by inattention and then by poor decision-making” and dismissed the previous home secretary Priti Patel’s claim that the asylum system is collapsing because of “the various strains, abuses, sheer numbers coming to this country”.
Instead, MPs found that increasing pressures on the system were a result of the “poor resourcing, by successive governments, of staff and technology in the Asylum Operations function in the Home Office”. As a result, the backlog in asylum cases that are ‘work in progress’ has grown to 117,000 in June, more than double what it was in 2014.
Updated 27 October 2022: Home Affairs Committee 26 October 2022 – Channel crossings
Oral evidence session: Witnesses:
- Dan O’Mahoney Clandestine Channel Threat Commander at Home Office
- Abi Tierney Director General, Customer Services Capability at Home Office
- Dan Hobbs Director, Asylum, Protection and Enforcement at Home Office
- David Neal, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
Transcript of the session is here: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/11390/pdf/
Information is here: https://committees.parliament.uk/event/14980/formal-meeting-oral-evidence-session/
Chief inspector told MPs that Manston processing site was unsafe, understaffed and ‘wretched’
The borders watchdog said he was left speechless by “wretched conditions” during a visit to a migrant processing centre at Manston, which has already passed the point of being unsafe.
The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal, was also concerned after discovering some of those guarding people on the site are not specifically qualified to do so.
He said that following his visit to the Ramsgate site on Monday he urgently raised this issue with the home secretary and the chief inspector of prisons, Charlie Taylor.
Migrants are meant to be held at the short-term holding facility, which opened in January, for 24 hours while they undergo checks before being moved into immigration detention centres or asylum accommodation – currently hotels.
Mitie Care & Custody manages Manston and it has specially trained detention custody officers on the site who are accredited by the Home Office. However, there are also private security staff on site who do not have the same specialist training.
Neal told an evidence session of the home affairs select committee that along with his concerns about some of those staffing the site he had spoken to a family from Afghanistan living in a marquee for 32 days and two families from Iraq and Syria living in the tented accommodation for two weeks sleeping on kit mats with blankets.
“This is pretty wretched conditions,” he said.
See: ICIBI: An inspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil December 2021 – January 2022
Updated 26 October 2022: IPPR – Institute for Public Policy Research: Understanding the Rise in Channel Crossings
Since 2018, there has been a sharp rise in people crossing the Channel in small boats.
Numbers of people detected arriving in small boats have increased from around 300 in 2018 to nearly 30,000 in 2021. By the end of September 2022, provisional figures already showed that more than 30,000 people had been detected arriving via this route. Some of the most common nationalities of small boat arrivals in 2022 include Albanians, Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, and Syrians.
The vast majority (94 per cent) of people arriving by small boat make a claim for asylum.
Most of these claims are still stuck in the system; only 16 per cent of main applicants have received an initial decision. As of March 2022, more than 7,500 applications made by people arriving by small boat had been awaiting an initial decision for at least 12 months. On the assumption that the success rate of each nationality group of small boat arrivals is in line with that nationality’s overall success rate, we estimate that around 70 per cent of people arriving in small boats since 2018 would have successful asylum claims if they were substantively considered.
The recent rise in Channel crossings mirrors a longer-term global increase in displaced people. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of forcibly displaced people has more than doubled since 2011 and stood at 89.3 million at the end of 2021. In the EU, the number of first-time asylum applicants rapidly increased during the 2015 refugee crisis and is still higher than it was in the period before 2014. Asylum levels in the UK are considerably lower than in other comparable European countries such as France or Germany.
There are several potential factors behind why some people may seek to travel via northern France to claim asylum in the UK. According to prior studies and the stakeholders interviewed for this report, these include family ties, cultural links, the English language, perceptions of the UK as a safe and tolerant country, and challenges with the asylum systems in other parts of Europe. There are also important factors which are outside individual asylum seekers’ control: for instance, people smugglers may direct people to travel to the UK and encourage crossings to expand their profits.
Stakeholders suggested that the increase in small boats as the preferred route was likely a combination of increased securitisation among other routes, the UK’s withdrawal from he Dublin Regulation, and a ‘snowball effect’. Tighter security in recent years has made other forms of clandestine or irregular entry – such as travelling through the Channel Tunnel concealed in a lorry – more difficult, increasing the appeal of using small boats. The end of the Dublin Regulation’s application post-Brexit has also reduced the number of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers with family in the UK. And crucially, the initial success of using small boats has appeared to create a snowball effect, encouraging more and more to follow suit, and making the route increasingly hard to contain.
The government’s response to the Channel crossings has focussed largely on deterring arrivals. The Home Office response has included the following.
• The Nationality and Borders Act, which introduces a ‘two-tier’ refugee system, where some refugees – including those who do not come to the UK directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened – are granted a lesser status with fewer rights attached. This system has been critiqued for unjustly discriminating between refugees. The act also introduces new criminal offences for people who knowingly arrive in the UK without entry clearance or electronic travel authorisation when required. But these offences are expected to be used sparingly and so it is unlikely that they will deter people from arriving in the UK by small boat.
• The UK-Rwanda asylum partnership arrangement, which will involve the UK transferring asylum seekers to Rwanda. Under the agreement, Rwanda will be responsible for processing asylum claims and settling successful applicants. The scheme may apply to asylum seekers who are deemed ‘inadmissible’ because they have a connection with a safe third country, provided their journey to the UK is describable as dangerous and was made on 1 January 2022 or later. Major ethical and practical issues have been raised about the arrangement, including concerns about the status of Rwanda as a safe third country, the lack of evidence base for the policy, and the potential costs involved. The deal currently faces a number of legal obstacles and at the time of writing no flights have yet taken off.
• New operational and security measures, including the redeployment of Border Force patrol vessels, the introduction of a Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, and the transfer of operation command for small boat crossings to the Ministry of Defence. The UK has also agreed a series of deals with France focussed largely on tightening security. But these measures have not been able to prevent the recent rise. Moreover, some stakeholders argued they were ultimately counter-productive because people smugglers had been able to capitalise on their knowledge of how to evade security measures and profited more as a result.
The government argues that there are safe and legal routes for refugees, but they are not accessible for most people crossing the Channel. While the government has opened up uncapped routes for Ukrainian citizens and British nationals (overseas) from Hong Kong, for other nationalities there is no straightforward route to enter the UK to seek refuge. The mainstream resettlement routes only admit very small numbers – 1,622 in the year ending June 2022 – and they have no formal application process.
There are a range of alternative responses to the rise in Channel crossings. These include the expansion of safe and legal routes for people seeking refuge, closer cooperation with France and the EU on asylum and small boat arrivals, and improvements to the efficiency of the asylum system. We will explore the most effective policy responses in more depth in our final report on the Channel crossings next year
Read more: This document is available to download as a free PDF and in other formats at:
Updated 25 April 2022: Care4Calais: Government backs down on pushbacks
We are proud and delighted that the Home Secretary has abandoned the controversial Pushbacks policy just over a week before our case was due to be heard in the High Court.
Care4Calais joined forces with the Public and Commercial Services Union, Channel Rescue and Freedom from Torture to challenge the proposed Home Office policy to forcibly push back small refugee boats in the English Channel. The hearing was set for May 3rd.
On Sunday night the Home Office wrote to confirm the policy has been withdrawn.
Before today, Priti Patel had repeatedly insisted that the pushback policy would be used, but the climbdown shows that the policy was never really viable. There is simply no safe way to carry out pushbacks at sea, which means the Home Office attempt to defend them was almost certain to fail. It is a shame that it took a legal challenge from us and others to bring it to an end.
It is now clear that the pushbacks policy was only ever another example of this government trying to score political points by bullying vulnerable people who simply need our help.
It is great that no more time and money will be wasted on this, but now we must look to a new danger created by another impractical, toxic, publicity-seeking seek threat from this government. We’re preparing to challenge the plan to send innocent people to Rwanda – another staggeringly expensive exercise with cruelty to innocent people at its heart.
As compassionate, caring people who are prepared to act, we should take heart from this climbdown. We must keep fighting this government’s seemingly endless stream of despicable schemes, and that means fighting the Rwanda plan.
We would like to thank all our amazing supporters who enabled us to challenge the pushbacks policy. We want you to know that your support has saved lives. We also want to thank our brilliant lawyers Duncan Lewis.
and on this same story from the Guardian: Priti Patel’s refugee pushback policy withdrawn days before legal review
Government lawyers confirm Home Office plan to force small boats back to France has been abandoned
Priti Patel’s refugee pushback policy has been officially withdrawn by the government days before a judicial review of the tactic was due to be heard in the high court.
The government’s legal department acknowledged in a letter on Sunday that the plan to try to force people in dinghies back to France has been abandoned after Boris Johnson’s announcement that the Royal Navy would take over operations in the Channel.
Patel’s officials last week received notification that the Ministry of Defence, which is now in charge of picking up refugees in the Channel, did not have permission to use the tactic, the letter said.
The policy, which was finalised in the autumn by the Home Office, authorised and encouraged Border Force officials to stop migrant vessels in UK waters and forcibly redirect them to return to France. In January, Patel said pushing back boats was “absolutely still policy” when she gave evidence to the Lords justice and home affairs committee.
In its letter, the legal department said the policy and procedures had been withdrawn and that the MoD joint commander had not had permission to authorise the use of turnaround tactics.
Updated 22 April 2022: Guardian: Priti Patel accused of misleading parliament over refugee pushbacks
Court ruling reveals unpublished parts of policy saying tactic would not be used against asylum seekers.
The home secretary has been accused of misleading parliament after a high court ruling revealed that unpublished parts of a controversial policy to push back migrant dinghies in the Channel said the tactic would not be used against asylum seekers.
The pushbacks policy was finalised in autumn 2021, yet in January this year Priti Patel said pushing back migrant boats was “absolutely still policy” when she gave evidence to the Lords justice and home affairs committee. She has been accused of giving that evidence even though she knew about the unpublished clauses in the policy not to use pushbacks against asylum seekers.
The former shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, accused Patel of misleading parliament and called on her to apologise: “This judgment reveals the home secretary connived to mislead refugees, voters and parliament that people expressly seeking asylum could be repelled in UK waters. Priti Patel must apologise and rethink large sections of her borders bill before it returns to the Lords. It is a disgraceful breach of the rule of law.”
Updated 11 February 2022: From JCWI: As you may have seen, 12 people have now had their ‘boat steering’ convictions quashed. These are people who were forced by smugglers to steer the boats they crossed the Channel in. Despite having crossed to seek asylum, they were convicted of smuggling offences.
Though the judge ruled that the convictions arose from an error of law, convictions are not being automatically overturned – individuals convicted of these offences must lodge their own case for it to be quashed. Given the serious implications of a criminal conviction for any asylum claim, it’s very important that people with these convictions are able to overturn them.
We’re aware that, while 12 people have had their convictions overturned, there are others who have not. We’re concerned that not all may have representation or know that their convictions can be quashed, and are keen to ensure that everyone prosecuted for these offences is identified and offered advice.
Four asylum-seekers who were jailed for helping to steer small boats across the channel have today won their appeal against their convictions (21 December 2021). The Court of Appeal recognised that the Crown Court in Kent where the men were convicted and sentenced had made “fundamental” errors and quashed their convictions.
The court heard submissions that the defendants’ sole intention was to claim asylum in the UK, that they wished to make themselves known to authorities to do so, and that there was therefore no attempt at clandestine entry. However, in the case of GZ, JCWI’s client, he was wrongly advised that he had no legal defence on this basis and so was advised to plead guilty.
The court found, “In truth, this guilty plea was not entered simply because counsel gave wrong advice. It was entered because a heresy about the law had been adopted by those who were investigating these cases, and passed on to those who prosecuted them, and then further passed on to those who were defending them and finally affected the way the judges at the Canterbury Crown Court approached these prosecutions.”
Updated 5 February 2022: Guardian: ‘We thought we’d die’ – after their treacherous journeys, what awaits the refugees landing on British beaches?
Many of the thousands of people who attempt the deadly Channel crossing in tiny boats land in towns like Folkestone. Local resident James Harkin meets some on the shore by James Harkin
Only the hardy wade into the Channel in winter, and this year I’m one of them. Nearing the end of my stone-cold morning swim at Mermaid Beach in Folkestone, Kent, I notice something out of the ordinary. A commotion has broken out around a small inflatable dinghy a few beaches away as it skirts a vicious pile of rock groynes there to protect the shingle beach. Shortly afterwards, a fellow swimmer hollers in my direction, wondering whether I’ve seen the arrivals. They tossed their lifejackets in the water when they landed, he says, with what sounds like disdain.
[…] Soon after, the trail of dinghies and small boats dries up for a while; fierce weather and the roaring sea have made the journey all but impossible. But just before Christmas, despite escalating rhetoric from the British government, they start up again. When the wind drops and the seas calm, determined swimmers think about venturing back into the water, but it makes Hough anxious. “It’s not long before we hear the helicopters,” she tells me, when I call for an update. “We hope everyone has arrived safely, and that there was at least one person who was welcoming on the beach.”
Here are just a couple of extracts:
“Q: Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I welcome what the Minister says about not using sonic weapons—an idea that was described by a Home Office source in the press today as “f***ng bonkers”. When the Home Office is saying that your idea can be classified as that, you have to think you have taken a wrong turn in your planning somewhere. May I press the Minister on the relationship between the Royal Navy and the Marines, on the one hand, and UK Border Force? He tells the House—I welcome the assurance—that the Royal Navy will not be engaged in pushing back boats with refugees in them, but that leaves open the door that the UK Border Force might still do that. In that case, how can he possibly say that operational primacy sits with the Royal Navy?
James Heappey: In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that there may be some disagreement between Departments, I can only reflect that my great friends the Under-Secretaries of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friends the Members for Corby (Tom Pursglove) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), work with me all the time, not just on this matter but on Op Pitting and all sorts of other issues where Home Office and MOD interests align. The right hon. Gentleman is right to note that I was clear that Border Force is developing a tactic. It may well be that the commander is comfortable with that tactic being employed, and there is a difference between the reason why the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines will not deploy that tactic and the reason why Border Force may. Border Force has the appropriate vessels, potentially, to do so safely; the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines do not.
Q: Can the Minister at least give my constituents some hint of when a robust policy will be in place and the Navy will be involved?
James Heappey: Very imminently indeed, and I would certainly imagine within the next few weeks.”
Updated 17 January 2022: City AM: Army to take control as govt plans to order Royal Navy to stop Channel migrants and fly asylum seekers to Rwanda and Ghana
The Prime Minister is planning to slow the flow of migrants into the UK by calling in the army and fly asylum seekers to a number of African countries, including Ghana and Rwanda, to process their applications there.
According to a report in The Times this morning, Boris Johnson plans to give the Royal Navy ‘primacy’ over all government-run and owned vessels in the Channel later this month.
A rear admiral will reportedly be given the powers to oversee the Border Force, coastguard, fisheries protection and customs and excise to carry out surveillance or intercept migrants that attempt to cross the Channel.
Guardian: Military to be used to stem Channel crossings as Johnson seeks to stay PM
No 10 reportedly preparing populist offensive including sending people to African countries for processing
The UK armed forces are to be put in charge of stopping people from travelling across the Channel in small boats as Boris Johnson seeks to sidestep the “partygate” scandal and remain prime minister.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has been in talks for weekes about the involvement of the military, Whitehall sources said, as the numbers travelling from France have continued through the winter.
Reports have claimed plans are also being drawn up to send people to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda for processing and resettlement.
It follows reports over the weekend that No 10 has launched “Operation Red Meat” amid growing public anger over Downing Street parties.
[…] A government source confirmed that the plans had been discussed and brought forward, adding it would be up to the Ministry of Defence to determine operational deployments. “The home secretary called for the military to defend UK territorial waters against illegal migration in August 2020, when the first request for support went into the MoD,” said a Whitehall source.
Updated 17 January 2022: BBC: Channel migrants: Royal Navy set to take over English Channel operations
The Royal Navy is set to take charge of operations looking to limit migrant crossings in the English Channel within weeks, the BBC has been told.
This move could free up the Home Office to focus on reforms to the asylum system, a government source said.
However, Defence Select Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood criticised the plans as “rushed” by the government and a “massive distraction” for the navy.
The number of people who crossed last year was treble that of 2020.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources told the BBC that discussions about the armed forces working with the Home Office and UK Border Force had been taking place for several weeks.
They said no decisions had been made over how the Royal Navy or other services would be involved, and there was no indication it would involve pushing migrant boats back to France.
A source added that the details of the plans for how the military could co-ordinate operations were still to be worked out, while another said there was “trepidation” within the MoD about getting involved in such a complex issue.
Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60021252
Updated 3 January 2022: Black Activists Rising Against Cuts UK – BARAC has launched a petition: Stop the government turning away small boats of migrants
BARAC UK started a petition to PM Boris Johnson , UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights
We have started this petition in opposition to the UK government’s policy to turn away small boats of refugees and migrants arriving by sea and the training of Border Force staff to carry out their ‘turnaround’ policy.
We believe that this is an abuse of human rights and it is essential that we challenge it collectively.
Read more and sign the petition here: https://actionstorm.org/petitions/stop-the-government-turning-away-small-boats-of-migrants-6148cb336d5cf
In October 2014: In the House of Lords: Lord Hylton asked what naval or air-sea rescue contribution they will make to prevent refugees and migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. [HL1977]. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con) responded:
We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. We believe that they create an unintended “pull factor”, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths. The Government believes the most effective way to prevent refugees and migrants attempting this dangerous crossing is to focus our attention on countries of origin and transit, as well as taking steps to fight the people smugglers who wilfully put lives at risk by packing migrants into unseaworthy boats. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141015w0001.htm
In 2015: Speaking during a visit to Vietnam, David Cameron said that attempts to enter the UK had increased because
“you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live”.
In 2021: this lack of humanity, the ‘othering’ of people seeking a safe place to live continues
Updated 21 December 2021: [see report of 28 November 2021 below] Guardian: Convictions quashed for men who drove dinghies across Channel
Appeals court rules in favour of men filmed piloting small boats after prosecutors ‘misunderstood’ law
The convictions of four asylum seekers for driving small boats across the Channel have been found unsafe by the court of appeal in a ruling that identified systemic failings in such prosecutions.
The three judges in the case said the convictions “must be quashed in due course”. Three of the men who appealed had their convictions quashed on Tuesday; a fourth man’s appeal is pending as the Crown Prosecution Service is seeking a retrial of his case.
All four men were convicted after being filmed driving dinghies bringing asylum seekers across the Channel.
But the judges said that in order to secure convictions in cases of this kind, the prosecution must prove that the person accused of driving the boat “knew or had reasonable cause to believe that his act was assisting entry or attempted entry into the United Kingdom without leave”.
[See report of people drowning in the Channel on 24 November 2021]: Utopia56: Drama in the English Channel: Utopia 56 files a complaint for manslaughter and failure to help
Following the sinking of a boat on November 24, 2021 off the coast of Calais causing the death of at least 27 people, Utopia 56 filed a complaint for manslaughter and failure to help the prosecutor of the Paris Judicial Court. Against:
- Mr Philippe DUTRIEUX, Maritime Prefect of the Channel and the North Sea
- Mr Marc BONNAFOUS, Director of cross gris nez
- Ms Claire HUGHES, Director of Her Majesty’s Coastguards
- As well as against any other author, co-author or accomplice that the investigation would come to determine.
According to the testimonies of the two survivors, relatives of deceased people and people who made the crossing on the same day, distress calls were made to the French and English rescue services before the bodies were discovered by a fishing boat. No help was immediately provided to them. According to a judicial source, the ongoing investigation, which is before the Junalco (National Court for the Fight against Organized Crime), has already confirmed the existence of these appeals.
“How these countries with humanity, morality and human rights did nothing to save the lives of 33 people.” wonders Saman, brother of one of the deceased.
This situation of unanswered calls for help had already occurred on November 20, 2021 at 9:23 a.m. That morning, the Utopia 56 on-call team received a distress call from a drifting boat. In one of the voice messages sent from the boat, an exiled person told us: “For example if I call 999, they say call France and when we call France they tell us to contact the United Kingdom. Both make fun of us. »
“As citizens, and while certain foundations are constantly flouted by the state and its institutions, the law remains our only bulwark against these illegal and abusive practices organized towards people in exile.” Charlotte Kwantes, National Coordinator of Utopia 56.
While the United Kingdom authorities do not seem to have opened any investigation following this shipwreck and the one opened in France seems to focus essentially on the role of smugglers, Utopia 56 wishes by the filing of its complaint and the investigations it will trigger that all the light be shed on the circumstances of this shipwreck:
- The French and English rescue services were informed, how were they organized?
- Who made the decisions and who must take responsibility for the shortcomings, negligence and recklessness that led to this human tragedy?
Transparency and truth are due to the victims and their families.
We must draw the lessons and consequences, including on the criminal level, of the shipwreck of 24 November 2021 so that, never again, these tragedies do not recur.
This tragedy comes in a context of systemic repression and violation of fundamental rights:
- In the UK, the Home Office is seeking to make the practice of refoulement legal, despite international maritime law and human rights (On 13 September 2021, footage from Sky News and the NGO Channel Rescue showed British coastguards training to push boats back into the sea using jet skis).
- In France, the parliamentary committee on migration notes that the budget invested by France at the border is largely devoted to police intervention (85%) rather than humanitarian aid (15%).
- The plane of Frontex, a European agency implicated for a criminal policy committed at the internal and external borders of Europe, has been operating since the end of November on the Calaisis.
- Ministers Gérald Darmanin and Eric Dupond-Moretti spread untruths and lies about the action of the state and the living conditions of people exiled at the border.
French public policies, the state lie, the denial of the truth, contribute daily to pushing people in exile to flee France and reach the United Kingdom. Thus, in 2021, more than 30,000 people have already reached the English coast, turning to illegal networks for lack of safe and legal routes of passage.
“A bag on their back, everyone had a story to tell, a story to build. Border policies have decided otherwise,”explains Nikolai Posner, coordinator of the Utopia 56 communication.
Getting involved also means sharing this article around you.
In the freezing waters of the English Channel, a group of men, women and children are treading water and holding each other’s hands to stay afloat.
Some are making desperate calls to rescuers on mobile phones held above the waves. But, as hypothermia sets in, their devices slip from their hands before they can send their location.
The dinghy in which they had hoped to reach British shores has a broken motor and is deflating.
One member of the group manages to send a voice message home. […]
A month on, despite freezing temperatures, hundreds of migrants have continued to cross the Channel each week.
Evicted from their makeshift camps by the French police in Calais, many say they have little choice but to take their chances with the Channel’s waves.
Read the full report here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-b7bd2274-88b1-4ef9-a459-be22e180b52c
103. The prosecution case is that at the time when the act of facilitation was done the facilitator and the migrants planned that they would steer towards England, perhaps a particular place in England, but would land wherever they could if they were not first intercepted. This would mean that they planned that the migrants would enter the United Kingdom unlawfully if that was the only way of entering the United Kingdom which proved possible. It is likely that in many cases this will be a realistic view of the evidence. If the jury is sure that this was the case, is that a proper basis for conviction?
[…] 119. It follows from paragraph 103 above that these convictions are unsafe and must be quashed in due course when we have determined any applications for retrials. A matter which the prosecution must prove, that at the time of the facilitation the appellant knew or had reasonable cause to believe that his act was assisting entry or attempted entry into the United Kingdom without leave, was not properly investigated and was then not left for the jury to decide. We cannot accept the submissions of the prosecution that convictions are safe notwithstanding these failures. The errors were too fundamental for that. It is unnecessary to say any more about those submissions.
120. In these circumstances it is not necessary to consider Mr. Rakei’s additional criticisms of the summing up in his case.
121. The prosecution has indicated that of these four cases it seeks a re-trial only in the case of Mr. Rakei. His case will be dealt with in accordance with the directions below, and his conviction is not yet formally quashed. We allow the appeals in the cases of Mr. Bani, Mr. Al Anzi, and Mr. Zadeh and quash their convictions now.
122., In the result the applications in relation to sentence fall away and we say nothing about them.
You can read the full judgement here: https://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/format.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2021/1958.html
Updated 2 December 2021: BBC: Channel migrants: Pushing back boats will increase danger, MPs warn
UK plans to turn back people attempting to cross the Channel are dangerous and probably unlawful, MPs have warned.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said last week the tactic would help deter smuggling gangs, following the deaths of 27 people in a small boat.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights is urging Ms Patel to scrap the policy. [see below]
[…] Earlier this year, the government authorised Border Force officials to use the tactic of turning back boats of migrants – but only in limited circumstances.
Border Force staff and armed forces reservists are understood to have carried out “push back” training exercises using seized migrant boats filled with volunteers.
But the union representing staff says the dangers involved – and the reluctance of France to co-operate with the tactic – mean it is unlikely ever to be used.
Under Home Office rules, boats deemed to be “vulnerable” cannot be turned around, and most of those attempting the Channel crossing would fall into that category, the union says.
The Nationality and Borders Bill would give Border Force staff who commit criminal offences while pushing back boats immunity from prosecution, when it becomes law.
But Ms Harman’s committee says staff should not be given immunity, because the UK is already a signatory to international treaties aimed at protecting lives at sea.
[…] The Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents borders staff, has also argued against giving staff immunity from prosecution.
ISU professional officer Lucy Moreton said Border Force staff were “committed to complying with the law, including the priority properly accorded to life at sea”.
She added that the rules on “pushing back” migrant boats were “rightly” very strict and, as a result, it was “highly unlikely that any attempt to turn a boat back will ever be made”.
Updated 2 December 2021: Joint Committee on Human Rights
New powers to pushback and criminalise Channel crossings breach UK’s human rights obligations, JCHR finds
Government proposals to forcibly push back people attempting to cross the Channel should be scrapped if the Government cannot show they are compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations, a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights has found.
- Read the full report (HTML)
- Read the full report (PDF)
- Read the report summary
- Read the report’s conclusions and recommendations
- Find all publications related to this inquiry, including oral and written evidence
Following legislative scrutiny of the Nationalities and Borders Bill, the Joint Committee finds that a suite of new measures to criminalise and disincentivise attempts to enter the UK without a visa or immigration leave will breach human rights law and the Refugee Convention.
It calls on the Government to switch focus and prioritise measures to ensure the safety of life at sea, and in particular preventing the loss of life of those attempting to cross the Channel. It further calls for reassurance that there will not be immunity from prosecution where criminal offences are committed by border officials leading to loss of life at sea.
The report is part of the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ ongoing legislative scrutiny of the Nationalities and Borders Bill. It focuses on Part 3 of the Bill which sets out the Government’s proposed changes to immigration law and sets out new powers for enforcement.
2021 has seen a steep rise in the number of migrants attempting to enter the UK by crossing the channel in small boats. In early November, over 1,000 people made the crossing in a single day. On Wednesday 24 November, 27 people drowned while attempting to make the crossing.
As a signatory to international treaties governing maritime law, including the SOLAS and SAR conventions and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in addition to its wider obligations under human rights law, the UK is required to take all reasonable measures to prevent people coming to harm at sea.
The Joint Committee finds that Government proposals to ‘pushback’ migrants attempting to cross the Channel in small boats is likely to see the UK act in contravention of its international obligations. Greater powers to board, divert and detain vessels would add danger to an already perilous route, whilst failing to act as a deterrent to those making the journey or people smugglers.
The UK has an additional responsibility to ensure that cases of slavery or human trafficking are investigated fully and the victims protected. By focussing on repelling boats away from its territorial waters, the UK would be failing in this duty.
The Joint Committee calls for the Home Secretary to set out clearly how the enforcement powers would only operate in a manner that is compatible with human rights law. If this cannot be done the powers should be removed from the Bill. Where boats are not seaworthy and there is a risk to safety the focus should be on saving lives and the proposed legislation should reflect this.
Border officials who commit a criminal offence whilst carrying out pushbacks should not be immune from prosecution, particularly if their actions result in loss of life. The Bill should be amended to make clear that there is no impunity for criminal offences committed by officials during enforcements operations.
Plans to criminalise those arriving in the UK without a visa or immigration leave are inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention, which explicitly prohibits refugees being penalised for unauthorised entry. Given the limited options refugees have for entering the UK via legal routes the Government should reconsider these measures.
The criminalisation of those facilitating illegal arrival into the UK has been poorly thought out given the potential for those acting only to protect human life at sea being exposed to potentially disproportionate sentences and dissuaded from life-saving actions. Such measures would be inconsistent with international obligations to protect and save lives at sea, and with the fundamental right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
While some concerns for the right to access justice remain, reforms of immigration removals that would mandate five working days’ notice before a person is removed, up from the current 72 hour notice period, are welcomed. The Joint Committee finds that this would allow greater protections against removals taking place without legal challenge.
The introduction of more factors to count against the grant of bail would increase the risk that immigration detention will be used, and prolonged, where it is not necessary or proportionate. It should be removed from the Bill.
Publishing the report, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Harriet Harman MP said:
“The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and despite its short distance the cold and choppy waters make crossing perilous. In their desperation to come to the UK people risk travelling in small and unsuitable boats. As we have seen, the consequences are devastating when something goes wrong.
The Government is determined to prevent these crossings, but pushbacks are not the solution. They will not deter crossings, the seas will become even more dangerous and the people smugglers will continue to evade punishment. Current failures in the immigration and asylum system cannot be remedied by harsher penalties and more dangerous enforcement action.
The Bill is littered with measures that are simply incompatible with human rights law and the UK’s obligations under international treaties. That is why we have called on the Government amend the Bill by clearly setting out how any new measures can be carried out with respect to human rights law. Any measures that cannot meet these standards should be removed from the Bill completely.”
See the original here: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/93/human-rights-joint-committee/news/159292/new-powers-to-pushback-and-criminalise-channel-crossings-breach-uks-human-rights-obligations-jchr-finds/
Updated 27 November 2021: Public and Commercial Services Union PCS: PCS joins legal action against government plans to pushback boats
PCS, the union representing Border Force staff, has joined Care4Calais in their legal fight to prevent Home Secretary Priti Patel from pushing back migrant Channel boats.
Following the tragic deaths of 27 people in the Channel this week, pressure has mounted on the government to reverse its intention to make Border Force staff prevent boats from reaching the UK.
PCS along with Care4Calais are demanding Priti Patel publishes the details of the policy and the legal basis of the Pushback policy.
The government is required to respond by Monday and if it refuses to abandon the policy, PCS could launch judicial review proceedings in the coming weeks.
Several charities have also started legal challenges against the policy.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The Pushback policy being pursued by the Home Secretary is unlawful, unworkable and above all morally reprehensible.
“Our border force members are aghast at the thought they will be forced to implement such a cruel and inhumane policy.
“Migrants who are trying to reach this country should be allowed to so via safe routes so that their claims can be assessed here.
“If the government does not abandon this appalling approach, we will pursue all legal avenues including a judicial review.
“PCS will not rule out all forms of industrial action, including disrupting the implementation of the Pushback policy if the Home Secretary insists on going ahead.”
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais said:
“We are incredibly proud to be joined in this action by PCS.
“Not only will this challenge represent the interest of desperate people forced to risk their lives, it will also represent those who may well be forced to implement it.”
See also: Crowd Justice fund-raising: Care4Calais are challenging Priti Patel’s attempts to make Channel crossings even more dangerous by deploying tactics to push flimsy boats back to France. We are proud to be bringing this claim alongside the Public Commercial and Services Union, who represent Border Force’s own officials who are aghast at the thought that they will be forced to implement such a cruel and inhumane policy.
Because ‘pushback’ tactics are unlawful under maritime and human rights law. They risk the loss of life at sea. After one of deadliest days the Channel has ever seen, when 27 human beings lost their lives, we cannot sit idly by to see Priti Patel make Channel crossings even more dangerous.
What do we know about the policy?
We know there is a policy. The Home Office disclosed this to us on 6 December. However, all the relevant information is redacted.
Crucially, the Home Office has redacted how they intend to push boats back in practice, and what safeguards they are putting in place to protect the lives of asylum seekers at sea, including children.
So what are we challenging?
First, we’re challenging the lawfulness of the policy. As a member of the executive, Priti Patel can only do what Parliament has authorised her to do. Parliament explicitly allows Border Force to exercise enforcement powers over vessels at sea in an exhaustive list of circumstances. Pushing asylum seekers back to France without considering their individual asylum claims and risking their lives in the process is not one of those circumstances. Priti Patel’s policy therefore goes against the will of Parliament; it is undemocratic and unlawful.
Second, we’re challenging the lack of transparency. We currently have access to a redacted policy document, which, as part of the proceedings, we are not allowed to share with the public. That’s not good enough. The rule of law demands that policies are published. The reason for this is simple; it allows people to see how, when and in what ways a policy will affect them. In this case, where the policy risks lives at sea, it is all the more important that the public knows how and when boats will be pushed back, and what safeguards exist to protect lives.
Our key focus is to help asylum seekers on both sides of the Channel; to provide aid to those living in destitution in Northern France and Belgium and to help refugees rebuild their lives in the UK. The vast majority of the men, women and children we support have made the Channel crossing. We know the fear and desperation they feel getting on dinghies in Calais, risking everything in the hope of finding safety in the UK. We know that further security and enforcement on Channel crossings will not stop refugees from making the journey; tactics like the proposed ‘pushbacks’ will only make the crossing more dangerous. We know the horrors that pushback tactics have led to in Libya and Greece; once the sacrosanct principle that saving living lives at sea must be the priority is abandoned, refugees’ lives become cheap. We do not want to see any more people dying on our border; we fear this will be inevitable should pushback tactics be used.
The legal team
We have instructed the Public Law Team at Duncan Lewis Solicitors which has an excellent track record of bringing complex judicial review claims that are of wider public importance. The Duncan Lewis legal team are Toufique Hossain, Jeremy Bloom, and Nina Kamp.
Duncan Lewis have instructed expert counsel Chris Buttler QC at Matrix Chambers who is described in Chambers and Partners 2021 as “head and shoulders above everyone else…his drafting is impeccable, he’s ferocious in court, and he turns cases around with his advocacy.” The excellent James Robottom is junior counsel on the case.
Why are your donations needed?
We are raising funds to protect us from paying the Home Office’s legal fees if the case gets to court and we don’t win, and to contribute to our own legal costs. Any unused funds will be allocated according to Crowd Justice’s Unused Funds policy.
The union representing Border Force staff has announced it is taking part in a legal challenge against a plan by Priti Patel to push back small boats in the Channel.
The loss of dozens of lives in the Channel this week has increased pressure on the government to drop its plans to make Border Force staff prevent boats from reaching the UK by physically pushing the boats back.
PCS and the two charities it is bringing the legal challenge with are demanding Patel publish the details of the policy and the legal basis for it.
The government is required to respond by this Monday. If it refuses to abandon the policy, PCS and the charities could launch judicial review proceedings imminently. Other organisations, including Channel Rescue and the charity Freedom from Torture, have launched separate legal challenges against the pushback plans.
Updated 26 November 2021: See StatusNow statement here: https://statusnow4all.org/at-and-within-the-uks-borders-statusnow4all-identifies-with-everyone-in-transit-and-everyone-who-has-died-in-transit/
BBC News: Migrant Voice director Nazek Ramadan tells BBC News that yesterday’s tragedy “could have been avoided”. “These were unnecessary deaths and there have been warnings for years and years for the government to do something,” she adds. “The problem isn’t the smugglers…the smugglers are there because the migrants are there, and people end up using them because they are desperate, there is no other way for them. ”“People end up resorting to huge risks and it’s not easy for them, actually people are terrified of getting on dinghies.” #ChannelCrossings#MigrantVoices#RefugeesWelcome (BBC News 25 November 2021 )
We know desperately little about those who drowned in the Channel this week. We know they set off from Calais in search of safe harbour in the UK. We know their ethnicity, if not their nationalities. We know they will have been terrified as their boat was submerged by the waves, and that their last moments will have been the stuff of nightmares.
For some, we know their names. Beyond that, we are reduced to guesswork. We can infer that they were desperate, that they thought the UK was the best place for a better life, and that they had hope for the future. We can infer their social class, their ages, their education. But much is left unknown.
France has cancelled talks with UK Home Secretary Priti Patel after Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly called on France to take back migrants who crossed the Channel.
In an escalation of the political crisis after the deaths of 27 people in the Channel, President Emmanuel Macron said communications between leaders should not take place over Twitter.
A summit with other European states is due to take place in Calais on Sunday.
But the home secretary is not invited.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Mr Johnson’s public letter was “unacceptable” and the president said later he was “surprised by the methods when they are not serious”.
Petition: BARAC UK and Nation of Islam European HQ Stop the government turning away small boats of migrants
BARAC UK and Nation of Islam European HQ started a petition to PM Boris Johnson , UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights: We have started this petition in opposition to the UK government’s policy to turn away small boats of refugees and migrants arriving by sea and the training of Border Force staff to carry out their ‘turnaround’ policy.
Abuse of Human Rights: We believe that this is an abuse of human rights and it is essential that we challenge it collectively. When people are risking their lives and those of their children to travel across seas in life threatening conditions, where the chances of success are known to be remote, we must consider the push factors which are causing them to make such a decision. Nobody embarks on such a perilous journey unless they believe what they are fleeing is worse than what they are to face. 75% of those crossing the Channel on small boats are children.
Breach of International Laws: Turning people away from British seas to face an almost certain death and the nullifying of International Maritime law to save those in need at sea Under the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. This policy also contravenes International law under the Geneva Convention on the right to seek asylum. Each State must also refrain from actions that would endanger asylum seekers. This is a concern for the whole International community, as it would leave every single one of us unprotected and vulnerable.
Letting refugees drown is tantamount to collateral murder by governments that should know by heart the lessons of the Second World War.
Responding to news of 27 refugees drowning in the English Channel after their dinghy capsized while trying to cross the English Channel from France to the UK earlier today, Robina Qureshi, Chief Executive of Positive Action in Housing, a refugee and migrant homelessness and human rights charity, said:
“Letting refugees drown is tantamount to collateral murder by governments that should know by heart the lessons of the Second World War. The responsibility for these deaths lies with Europe and the U.K. who have abjectly failed to create safe corridors for the sliver of a fraction of the world’s refugees who risk their lives on dangerous journeys to arrive on our shores.
“Instead of creating safe, humanitarian corridors, the UK government has stopped rescue missions and sounded dog whistles to the far right. The more that governments try to stop refugees arriving, the more they fuel the human trafficking trade, and the more refugees who will risk death by drowning in order to take a chance at fleeing persecution, in order to reach family already here and saving loved ones back home.
“We strongly urge the BBC and other media outlets to get their words right. The people who died after their boats sank in the English Channel are refugees NOT migrants. They ARE men, women and children fleeing persecution from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen and elsewhere. People fleeing these countries are refugees, not migrants.”
Update 24 November 2021: Care4Calais · We are devastated to hear that as many as 27 more people have died attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK.
According to news reports from France, at two o’ clock this afternoon a fisherman raised the alarm after finding bodies floating in the sea off Calais. Reports say that between five and 24 people died in the water. This horrific news comes after an autumn in which five refugee have died, and five more been lost at sea on the UK-France border.
Our hearts go out to family and friends of those lost today, and indeed to any family with relatives attempting such dangerous journeys. Such terrifying crossings can being only deadly fear and suffering to all those concerned. And this suffering is made even more tragic by the fact that every single death is easily preventable. This latest news highlights more than ever why we need a modern system of safe, legal routes enabling refugees to apply for asylum in the UK. After today’s tragedy, the lack of such a system must surely be regarded as intolerable by all reasonable people. On behalf of those people, we once again urge the UK Government to scrap its anti-refugee bill, and introduce such a system immediately.
A migrant charity has warned that the international procedure for protecting refugees was at risk of collapse.
Speaking in response to the tragedy, Zoe Gardener from the London-based Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants told the BBC there is “no requirement on people to seek asylum in the first country they reach”.
She said: “Of course there isn’t, otherwise nobody would end up seeking protection in the UK.”
Gardener adds that allthough the UK is a “compassionate country”, it’s also a rich, powerful and stable place that is “very able to offer protection to lots more refugees than we currently do”.
“So if everybody is supposed to stay in France because we’re slightly to the west of France, then France can say the same thing to Italy, and then Italy can say the same thing to Libya, and in the end, the entire international refugee protection regime will crumble”, she said.
French interior minister Gérald Darmanin says five women and one young girl among those who have drowned
[There are updates being added to this report – https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2021/nov/24/more-than-20-people-believed-to-have-died-after-refugee-boat-sinks-in-channel-latest-updates ]
17 November 2021: Just one fantastic example of people opening their hearts. This is happening in many places:
Hastings Supports Refugees · The beach response group had been on high alert all day. Reports started coming in of a lot of activity in the Channel from early morning onwards. Hastings RNLI launched late morning. But they disembarked the people they had rescued at Dungeness. We watched with trepidation as it didn’t hear straight home. We feared the worst. We were right. At around 7.30 the life boat landed with 40 people on board, including 5 unaccompanied minors. A huge team effort ensued to provide them with hot drinks and food, warm dry clothing and toiletries. They had been at sea for 20 hours. Everyone was cold, exhausted and very relieved to have made it here. It’s is again down to your support we are able to do this. Thank you to the people who dropped Jogging bottoms to us today, they are already providing warmth to these men. If you can buy us even I pair of joggers, mens size small or medium, dark colours, we would be very grateful. They can be bought in primark for £5. Tonight we had 40 cold men and boys to clothe. We didn’t have enough.
[Later: ]So many of you are being so generous. You are all amazing. Primark in town has apparently sold out of the joggers. Which is making me very happy because it means you all bought them for us!We are thinking of doing some bulk ordering, in which case if you would rather donate to our just giving page here are the details. Thank all you wonderful wonderful people. We didn’t think we could, but actually we love this town more than we did yesterday or the day before! https://www.justgiving.com/cro…/hastings-supports-refugees
Very troubling: 16 November 2021: Guardian: UK and France reach agreement to ‘prevent 100% of Channel crossings’
Joint statement says authorities are determined to make the route ‘unviable’ for migrants entering the UK from France
UK and French authorities are determined “to prevent 100% of crossings” over the Channel and make the route “unviable” for migrants hoping to enter Britain from France, it was announced on Monday.
UK home secretary Priti Patel and the French interior minister Gérald Darmanin issued a joint statement “on the issue of small boats crossing the Channel and the operational response to it.”
“Both the home secretary and interior minister agreed to strengthen operational cooperation further. More must be done to stop the dangerous crossings. They agreed to accelerate the delivery of the commitments made in the joint agreement of July 2021 to deliver on their joint determination to prevent 100% of crossings and make this deadly route unviable,” the statement said.
15 November 2021: A Heartwarming Welcome on Hastings Beach: RNLI rescues 53 people from the Channel
On 11th November, 53 people were rescued in the Channel from their tiny dinghy by Hastings RNLI and brought into Hastings beach, having spent 18 hours on the water. Among them were five children, all girls, and three women, one of whom was six months pregnant.
Hastings Supports Refugees has recently convened an Emergency Response Team after a similarly tiny boat washed up on a nearby beach two months ago when an HSR member happened to be there and witnessed what happened then – the boat being held on the water by Border Force for more than three hours, and no official provision of food, drinks or clothing.
Since then the HSR team has raced to provide food, drink, dry clothes and a warm welcome to more groups of people who have made the perilous journey across the Channel and been brought into Hastings.
Here is the account from Jane Grimshaw, Co-Chair of Hastings Community of Sanctuary and co-ordinator of the response team.
“Today was a day we were hoping wouldn’t happen. It’s November, it’s cold here in Hastings but it’s even colder out at sea. At around 12.20pm we received the first of a steady stream of messages and calls. The Hastings RNLI had rescued 53 men, women and children from a dinghy in the Channel.
Conditions in Northern France are intolerable for refugees and people are desperate to get away before they are forced to spend the whole winter there.
Because of the support of the people of Hastings we were able to mobilise our team and be on site within 20 minutes of that first message, offering a warm welcome, support, warm clothing, blankets and supplies.
Local business played their part in today’s operation. One Old Town pub responded with trays of chips, and a café with hot drinks, all without charge. Hot food and drinks are an essential part of any first response.
The refugees we spoke to were from Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait and China (a Uighur).
None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the ongoing support of the people of our town.
We have supplies of warm clothing and funding in place to restock our essentials of snacks, drinks, pants and socks.
So we want to take this moment to thank you all for making this possible and to wish a very warm welcome to everyone we were fortunate enough to meet today.”
14 November 2021: Guardian: Union considers legal action over Channel refugee ‘pushbacks’
Border Force staff express concern at Priti Patel’s proposed tactic of forcing boats back to France
Border Force guards, who the government says will be asked to turn refugee boats in the Channel around, are considering applying for a judicial review to stop the tactic from being used.
Officers from the PCS union have said they are prepared to launch a high court challenge to the lawfulness of Priti Patel’s plans. The home secretary has maintained that the tactic of intercepting and sending back boats to France would be within the law.
Documents from the Home Office seen by the Guardian show that the government’s own lawyers have warned ministers that the tactic could lead to a legal challenge from a union or possible strike action.
It emerged last week that counsel warned the home secretary that the odds of successfully defending a challenge are “less than 30%”.
Just outside Grande-Synthe to the west of Dunkirk lies the encampment. Scores of tents straddle a railway track and curve around by a canal, wedged in between a main road and an industrial estate.
People have come from all over the world to be here – searching for a way to cross the Channel and start a new life in the UK.
There is a whole community of people whose lives are bound up with these migrants on their doorstep.
Eve-Marie Dubiez, a local to the area, is one of half a dozen volunteers doling out sandwiches and hot chocolate on Friday morning. Her group provides breakfast here twice a week, armed also with rain ponchos, socks, and sometimes shoes, when they can get them.
She is confident there will be a solution to the migrant crisis in northern France. “But these are the ones paying the price for the moment,” she says, gesturing to the people collecting food from her colleagues.
Eve-Marie has spent the last 15 years working in camps like these. She says police regularly move people on, demolishing camps or pushing people further along the coast. “Everybody wants to get rid of them one way or the other,” she says.
“Smugglers don’t help,” she adds. “They’re not the reason for this mess, but they take advantage.”
By Cryton Chikoko of SNN signatory organisation Equanicity: Borders kill – time to question them?
On Wednesday, at least 27 people drowned trying to reach safety in the UK. Thousands have perished over the years.
While the Global North can freely roam the world, strong travel barriers are devised against The Global South.
Borders segregate people. They make sure that some people group wallow in unimaginable affluence while others are in indescribable misery (hugely a consequence of the activities and exploitation of The Global North).
As far as I know, there is no campaign that goes far enough to touch the legitimacy of borders.
Instability in many parts of the world and global warming mean that migration will only increase. More people will move in order to survive.
Our safe-and-legal-routes rallying cry, even if granted, may work but for a while.
Perhaps the time has come now to interrogate the whole concept of borders or should we wait a little bit longer so that we don’t appear insane?
Borders kill. I hate them.
Cryton Chikoko is co-founder of Equanicity, SNN signatory.
Care4Calais · In the last 24 hours I’ve been filled with new hope and belief in what I, and all of us here, do in our work with refugees. It has been such a horrific week. Twenty seven refugees drowning in the English Channel, and the UK Government’s reaction is simply to double down on its draconian and dangerous anti-refugee bill. But since yesterday, ordinary, decent people have begun spontaneously taking to the streets, holding vigils for those lost; thousands of them from all walks of life, all across the United Kingdom, coming together to honour the memory of 27 innocent people who sought only safety on our shores. Today I stood in such a group of people, and listened to speakers voicing from the heart the feelings we felt, and I truly believed we can change things. Enough is enough; these deaths must stop. And if that means challenging Government, then so be it. (see the video of demonstrations around the country on the Facebook page)
1 October 2021: Cosmopolis: Prohibition on Making Asylum Claims in UK Territorial Waters
The Devil is in the detail, hiding in plain sight. Clause 12 of the Nationality and Borders Bill requires an asylum claim to be made at a designated place. Although some places may be designated later by regulations, all the places designated on the face of the Bill are on the territory or landmass of the United Kingdom. However, the UK territorial sea is excluded from being a place where a Home Office Immigration Officer is authorised to accept an asylum claim. Why prohibit asylum claims being made in UK territorial waters?
The answer is that the Home Office expects Immigration Officers to be in UK territorial waters (in reality the English Channel) in boats, exercising maritime enforcement powers to board, intercept and drive away insecure vessels of asylum seekers crossing the Channel, before those people arrive on UK territory to claim asylum. Such exercises would be hampered, if not frustrated, were Immigration Officers to board a vessel, or maybe even rescue people in distress from a vessel on to their own Home Office boat, only to have those people make claims for asylum in the UK. Does the exclusion the UK territorial sea from being a place to make an asylum frustrate the operation of the Refugee Convention? Is it really performing Refugee Convention obligations in good faith to make policy in this way?
Read more: Adrian Berry, Cosmopolis, https://is.gd/cbrMHw
21 September 2021: JCWI: How to answer when someone asks “why don’t people just claim asylum in France?”
- Give context
- Point out people’s ties to the UK
- Explain we all have the right to claim asylum anywhere
- A gentle reminder that geography doesn’t trump responsibility
- Take a look and share now!
‘We saw the jet skis either side and at the rear of the boat and then collide with the vessel to actually spin it around. It looked dangerous,’ says director of Channel Rescue
Photographs and video footage taken by charity Channel Rescue on Monday morning shows large Border Force vessels with what appears to be three jet skis trying to turn around rubber boats.
Updated 13 September 2021: Bishops hit out at ‘criminalisation of Good Samaritan’ over Channel crossings
Barbara Forbes has drawn our attention to yesterday’s letter from twelve Anglican Bishops. They describe the Nationality and Borders Bill as ‘an affront to justice’.
The signatories are listed at the foot of the letter. If you live in the diocese of any of these bishops you might like to write and thank them. If they sit in the Lords you could ask them to work against the Bill when it reaches the House of Lords. If you are in a diocese that is not represented in the list you might write in terms that would encourage them to join the protests.
12 September 2021: Guardian: Bishops hit out at ‘criminalisation of Good Samaritan’ over Channel crossings
Letter from 12 C of E bishops says nationality bill is ‘affront to justice’ by penalising the saving of a life
Twelve Church of England bishops have accused the government of criminalising “Good Samaritans” who seek to save the lives of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.
The bishops, who speak on asylum and refugee issues within the church, said the nationality and borders bill before parliament is an “affront to justice” by putting the saving of life under a legal penalty.
Record numbers of people have crossed the Channel in small boats this summer, including more than 1,500 people last week.
Under the bill, migrants could face up to four years in prison. Plans put forward by Priti Patel, the home secretary, will require Border Force vessels to turn back migrant boats rather than bringing passengers safely into the UK.
In a letter published by the Guardian, the bishops said: “We are deeply concerned about the government’s approach to migrant crossings of the Channel.”
The bill “would criminalise not only attempts to cross the border irregularly, nor even simply people smuggling, but even those who take part in the rescue of boats in distress at sea.
“This would require those who see asylum seekers at risk to choose between ignoring a moral imperative (also established in maritime law) to assist them, or to risk prosecution and imprisonment.
“This amounts to a criminalisation of the Good Samaritan who did not pass by on the other side, and an affront to justice to put the saving of lives under any sort of legal penalty.
“The new ‘turn back’ policy, which will see boats forcibly returned to France, also raises significant moral concerns. It starkly increases the risks at sea and endangers the lives of those attempting the crossing.” […]
The signatories are:
Rt Revd Paul Butler Bishop of Durham
Rt Revd David Walker Bishop of Manchester
Rt Revd Jonathan Clark Bishop of Croydon
Rt Revd John Perumbalath Bishop of Bradwell
Rt Revd Sarah Mullally Bishop of London
Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin Bishop of Dover
Rt Revd Rachel Treweek Bishop of Gloucester
Rt Revd Christopher Chessun Bishop of Southwark
Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani Bishop of Chelmsford
Rt Revd Tony Robinson Bishop of Wakefield
Rt Revd Vivienne Faull Bishop of Bristol
Rt Revd David Hamid Suffragan Bishop in Europe
Updated 9 September 2021: BBC News: Channel crossings: Migrant boats could be turned back in new UK move
Home Secretary Priti Patel wants to allow the UK Border Force to be able to turn back boats carrying migrants across the English Channel.
A government source told the BBC if used, the tactic would only happen in “very certain, narrow circumstances”.
The details are still to be finalised – but there are questions over whether it would break international maritime law.
France is likely to oppose any such move, saying “safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority”.
Ms Patel met her French counterpart, interior minister Gérald Darmanin, on Wednesday for talks on the migrant crisis – but the two sides failed to agree any new measures.
After the meeting, it was reported by some newspapers that the government was considering allowing Border Force officials to turn away boats.
A senior government source told the BBC although the government is agreed on the potential idea, the operational details are still to be finalised.
And they said the tactic would only be used in “very certain, narrow circumstances”.
But France believes the idea is dangerous and flouts international maritime law. Under the law, people at risk of losing their lives at sea must be rescued.
So far this week, more than 1,500 migrants have crossed the English Channel by boat.
Read more: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58495948
Exclusive: Netherlands and Sweden join list of EU countries saying they will not agree to take asylum seekers from UK
More than 3,000 men, women and children have made the trip in small boats since January, up on around 1,400 during the same period in 2020, despite ministers paying millions of pounds to increase security along the French coast.