Channel Crossings

That which is morally wrong cannot be politically right

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On Sunday night the Home Office wrote to confirm the policy has been withdrawn.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.

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and on this same story from the Guardian: Priti Patel’s refugee pushback policy withdrawn days before legal review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Priti Patel’s refugee pushback policy has been officially withdrawn by the government days before a judicial review of the tactic was due to be heard in the high court.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.

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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.”

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Updated 11 February 2022: From  JCWIAs 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. 

JCWI client among four asylum-seekers cleared of smuggling charges in pivotal court case

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.”

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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.”

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Updated 19 January 2022: Hansard: Migrant Crossings: Role of the Military : debated on Tuesday 18 January 2022

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.”

You can read the transcript here:

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.

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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.

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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.

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See also

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:

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.

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”.

Read more here:

[See report of people drowning in the Channel on 24 November 2021]: Utopia56Drama 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
  • X
  • 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.

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BBC: Channel migrants tragedy: Terrifying final hours of their fatal journey

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:

The Supreme Court judgement of today, 21 December 2021:

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:

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”.

Read more:

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.

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.

Chair’s comments

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:

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.    

Why us? 

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.

Guardian: Border Force staff union joins fight to block Priti Patel’s pushback plansHome secretary under pressure as own staff join challenge to high-profile policy on Channel crossings

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.

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Updated 26 November 2021See StatusNow statement here

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 )

The Justice Gap: “It’s easier to believe that they are “migrants”.  We can’t acknowledge we have let 30 desperate refugees drown’

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.

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BBC: France scraps UK talks over Johnson migrants letter

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”.

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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. 

Read more and sign here:

Update 24 November 2021:  Positive Action in Housing: Statement in response to the drowning of 27 refugees in the English Channel

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.

BBC: International refugee system ‘at risk of collapse’ – charity

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.

Guardian: Thirty-one people drown after refugee boat capsizes in Channel, French minister confirms – latest

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 – ]

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!…/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.

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15 November 2021: A Heartwarming Welcome on Hastings BeachRNLI 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%”.

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BBC: Calais activists: Migrants call us from boats asking for help

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.”

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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,

21 September 2021: JCWI: How to answer when someone asks “why don’t people just claim asylum in France?”

When our Policy Manager Zoe was asked this question by an MP, she gave this great answer. Watch and share Zoe’s reply in 5 steps:

  • 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!

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Updated 14 September 2021: Independent: Border Force carries out ‘pushback drills’ using jet skis to divert dinghies in Channel, footage suggests

‘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

Border Force staff have used jet skis to turn around dinghies in the English Channel as part of a training exercise, footage suggests.

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.

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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.” […]

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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:

22 May 2021: Independent: Government ‘devoid of compassion and competence’ over English Channel crossings as numbers double

Exclusive: Netherlands and Sweden join list of EU countries saying they will not agree to take asylum seekers from UK

The number of migrants crossing the English Channel has doubled year on year despite Priti Patel’s vow to make the route “unviable”, The Independent can reveal.

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.