UK Home Secretary sanctions 'pushback' tactic on English Channel migrant boats

UK Home Secretary sanctions 'pushback' tactic on English Channel migrant boats
The CEO of the UK Refugee Council said resources, time and effort would be better spent on finding safe routes for the migrants rather than stopping perilous journeys across the English Channel.
3 min read
09 September, 2021
France has banned the sale of inflatable dinghies from towns by the Channel to try to stop migrant crossings [Getty]

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has authorised the use of "pushback" tactics to stop Britain-bound boats carrying migrants across the English Channel and redirect them back to France. 

Patel has sought legal advice for Border Force vessels to start using the controversial tactic amid growing tensions with her French counterpart over measures to prevent boats of undocumented migrants arriving on UK shores. 

Former head of the UK Border Force, Tony Smith, described the move as "highly dangerous", while the UN Refugee Agency in the UK said the government’s plan to push migrant boats back to sea is "dangerous in so many ways". 

A senior government source told the BBC that the tactic would be used in "very certain, narrow circumstances". 

Lucy Moreton, Professional Officer for the Union for Borders, Immigration & Customs told reporters that redirecting boats would be "exceptionally rare" because the tactic is potentially harmful and its use so limited that it could be a "waste of time and money". 

France is likely to oppose the move, maintaining its position on refusing to take back or intercept migrants at sea unless they ask to be recused. 

Before a bilateral G7 meeting with Patel on Wednesday, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin said: "Safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status, and migratory policy, out of strict respect for the international maritime law governing search and rescue at sea." 

Patel is considering suspending a £54 million payment to France to help combat migrants crossings unless the proportion of people stopped increases by the end of the month.

However, the French MP for Calais said on Wednesday that managing the shoreline every day and every night was "quite impossible". 

The UK Home Office said that around 300 people were intercepted on Wednesday when attempting to cross the English Channel. Over 12,000 people have made the journey so far this year.

Many of those arriving via small boats are fleeing violence and persecution and make claims for asylum once arriving in Britain. 

CEO of the Refugee Council, Enver Solomon told The New Arab: "Desperate men, women and children fleeing violence and persecution from the oppressors like the Taliban only risk their lives by crossing the Channel to reach safety because - terrifyingly - doing so actually feels safer than staying where they are.

"Rather than spending time, resources and immense effort on pushing these very vulnerable people away, this government must give people options for safe routes to stop such perilous journeys in the first place." 

While 31,115 asylum applications were made in the UK in the year ending June 2021, only 13,929 initial decisions were made on asylum applications.