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Migrants cross English Channel in record numbers

On Monday, 430 people made the dangerous journey across the Channel in search of a better life, the highest number ever in a day.

The arrivals have come in the wake of an ongoing debate amongst MPs on whether to strengthen current measures on national borders, with aims to render the crossing ‘unviable’.

Leading the pack in what has been called the ‘anti-refugee bill’ by critics is none other than Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary.

Under Patel’s proposed legislation, it will be a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission. Those who try could face up to four years in prison or be sent to a ‘safe third country.’

Where that will be exactly, no one knows. Remote overseas territories such as Ascension Island have been eyed up, according to leaked reports.

The new policy also says those helping others cross by driving the boats will be fined £2,000.

Many believe Patel’s logic is flawed. If claiming asylum in the UK is made more difficult, an increase in the number of illegal crossings will certainly be the result.

While we’re on the subject, methods for managing illegal migrants aren’t a new government debate, but Patel’s suggestions are the most stringent to date.

They’ve been described as ‘extreme and nasty’, ‘harsh and callous’, as well as ‘radical’ and ‘ruthless’ by fellow MPs, charities, journalists, and the public.

Why are people crossing from Mainland Europe to the UK?

Over 8,000 people crossed the channel last year. We are just midway through summer, and this number has already been surpassed by the hundreds.

There is no blanket answer for why migrants set out on the treacherous journey, but a key reason is the harsh living conditions faced in other parts of Europe.

Unemployment and homelessness for refugees is common. For example, France’s refugee camps have been criticized for having inhumane living conditions as well as for their treatment of those awaiting asylum approval.

English, which is spoken in most countries at least on a basic level, is a lifeline for those whose initial place of asylum offers little in terms of support.

Under international law, refugees are not obligated to claim asylum in the first country they flee to.

Many have relatives or other point of contacts who already live in the UK which could be another reason to seek England as an option. In many cases, France acts as a stopover.

Though the boats arrive from the coasts of France or Belgium, those making the journey are adults and children of mixed backgrounds – Sudan, Syria, Iran and Iraq are amongst them.

The political and moral divide

The nation is divided on matters of national borders and immigration.

Patel says she is acting for those who want taxpayer money to support and protect British nationals as a priority.

This view is often overlapped with concerns over job security and housing capacities; however these worries are not completely warranted.

Those seeking asylum have fled from their origin countries – mainly economically unstable or war-torn regions – where opportunities for education and job training are minimal.

The possibility of someone taking your job after arriving onshore with nothing but the clothes on their back is unlikely.

This is the reality for the majority who sacrifice their entire life savings to fund the voyage that could also cost their lives.

Employment acquisition is secondary to survival and only possible once their application for claiming asylum in Britain granted, in a process that should only take 6 months but sees many wait much longer.

If approved, social housing is allocated by officials, with migrants given little choice on where they live.

Ironically, the concern over ‘where they will all go’ should be squashed by the fact that there are almost 650,000 empty homes in England, according to government reports.

This brings us to the moral dilemma.

Could Priti Patel’s tax-funded budget of £54million to increase security in France be better invested to offer support for human beings who literally have nowhere else to go?

From a humanitarian point of view, the answer is yes. National borders should mean very little when we all belong to the same world.

The human right to basic needs such as security and shelter, food, and water should not vary based on where you come from and don’t disappear based on where you go.

The bigger picture

In comparison to other European nations, the UK has granted the fewest asylum applications – with Turkey and other non-EU countries hosting much higher numbers.

Increased security and harsher consequences don’t deal with the reasons people are fleeing their own countries in the first place, regardless of whether it’s for safety or economic betterment.

The MP of Calais has stressed to BBC Radio 4 that even with a UK-funded increase in border security in France, officials still cannot monitor all possible points of departure.

Considering this, it would be more efficient to improve mechanisms to process the arrival of asylum seekers.

If the main concern is a threat to national security, efficient programs which check on their welfare and train approved individuals in skilled services could be the answer.

It’s not as if wealthy nations haven’t caused problems for the regions where many refugees are coming from – think of colonialism, involvement in wars, and Earth-warming CO2 emissions.

Speaking of CO2, on the back of halting relief for the existing crisis, Patel’s new policies emerge as we face some of the biggest effects of climate change to date – floods, fires, extreme heat. It’s ominous to say the least.

The number of climate refugees will continue to rise in coming years and wealthy nations attempting to shut their borders means millions will face dire situations.

Unless current attitudes towards migrants change, stable nations face a future of fighting a battle they cannot win.


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