Record-number of migrant Channel crossings highlights Rwanda-style policy failings

The number of migrants reaching Britain’s southern coast via the treacherous Channel route continues to rise, despite so-called government ‘deterrents.’

migrants crossing

This week saw the number of migrants arriving in Britain on small boats hit a new record of 1,295 in a single day. The Ministry of Defence said a total of 27 boats crossed the English Channel on August 22.

This beats the previous single-day record of 1,185 on November 11, 2021. Numbers continue to rise despite government ‘deterrents’, including the controversial five-year trial to send some refugees to Rwanda to claim asylum there.

In January, Boris Johnson announced plans to allow the Armed Forces to deploy Naval ships, boats, and surveillance technology to bolster the Border Force.

Defending the military approach to immigration, the then education secretary Nadhim Zahawi had told Sky News it would be a good idea for the prime minister to take personal control of the crisis, arguing a single command in control was the best strategy to tackle the problem. Zahawi said the policy would be a “much better way of dealing with illegal immigration,” while insisting the Navy would “behave responsibly” if and when boats are intercepted.

Priti Patel had insisted that the move to give the military ‘primacy’ over the operational response would act as a deterrent to migrants.

Despite Tory ministers’ claims that the introduction of hard-line policies will act as a deterrent for people using the treacherous Channel route, the number of migrants reaching Britain’s southern coast continues to rise. 

In mid-August, government figures showed that more than 20,000 people had been detected crossing the English Channel in small boats so far this year – almost double the figure of the same time last year when just over 11,300 crossings had been made.

With a record 1,295 crossing in a single day on August 22, that number has now been significantly exceeded.

‘Utterly flawed intervention’

Earlier this month, the UK Ministry of Defence told ministers it will give up responsibility for the ‘utterly flawed intervention’ in illegal crossings. Royal Navy ‘primacy’ is expected to be relinquished in January 2023, following a formal review.

The Navy was originally given £50m funding for the operation, which is codenamed Isotrope. However, significant further costs are believed to have racked up. Asides making sea patrols, the Navy has organised the supply of food, clothing and medical equipment for migrants picked up at sea and has constructed temporary structures.

In April, the Ministry of Defence announced it was refusing to continue Patel’s migrant boat push-backs policy. The policy would have enabled Border Force patrols to intercept migrant boats in the Channel and return them to France. The controversial plan was due to be challenged at the High Court by Care4Calais, Freedom from Torture, Channel Rescue, and the Public and Commercial Services trade union (PCS). They were set to argue that the policy would be an infringement on the migrants’ human rights, as the Border Force did not have the legal authority to push the boats back.

However, the government withdrew the pushback policy a week before it was set to be challenged by the High Court.

In response to the Home Office abandoning the policy, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said:

“Yet another Conservative policy on Channel crossings has completely unravelled while the number of lives put at risk in dangerous crossings is still rising.

“Conservative ministers have repeatedly chased headlines rather than doing the hard work to tackle the problem.

“The Navy was pulled into this because Home Office ministers were already failing and this comes on top of damning reports into failings in the Home Office management of Border Force, as well as hundreds of millions of pounds wasted on the unworkable Rwanda scheme.”

A report by the Defence Committee published in March, also questioned whether the policy of “escorting those crossing the Channel to Britain’s shore really will act as a deterrent.” The report warned there was no clear measure for “operational success.”

Similar warnings were reiterated in July, when a group of MPs said there is “no clear evidence” that the Home Office’s Rwanda project will result in fewer Channel crossings.

“Threats of being put on a flight to Rwanda with no chance of return to the UK have so far failed to stop people making the extremely dangerous journey across the Channel,” said the Commons Home Affairs Committee report.

“Instead, we have a search for radical new policies that might make good headlines but do little to stem the flow of people prepared to put their lives at risk to reach the UK by any means necessary,” said committee chairwoman Labour MP Diana Johnson.

Truss and Sunak pledge Rwanda-style deals

Despite tough and divisive schemes designed to tackle immigration by acting as deterrents showing no sign of success as the number of people crossing the Channel continues to rise, both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have pledged ‘tough measures’ on immigration and to pursue Rwanda-style deals.

In a ten-point plan published in the Sun, Sunak said he will “make our Rwanda partnership work” and will pursue additional deals with other nations.

Leadership frontrunner Liz Truss has also promised to expand the Rwanda plan to even more countries, as well as increasing Border Force staff levels from 9,000 to 10,800, if she becomes PM.

“The Rwanda policy is the right policy. I’m determined to see it through to full implementation, as well as exploring other countries that we can work on similar partnerships with. It’s the right thing to do,” Truss told the Mail on Sunday.

The Liz for Leader pledge to introduce tough measures to deter illegal Channel Crossings, includes a promise “not cower to the ECHR and ensure it works for Britain.”

The PM frontrunner’s promise not to “cower to the ECHR” created a hostile reaction. As one Twitter user wrote:

“Do you realise how insane and fascistic you sound? When you target the European Convention on Human Rights with your cynical sloganeering, there isn’t really any further to fall. Your cowardice should haunt you.”

Both Tory leadership candidates have been accused of “cruelty and immorality” for their promises to continue and expand on Rwanda-style deals.

Amnesty International described the Tory leadership hopefuls’ immigration plans as “dreadful”, saying they would come at “great human and financial cost.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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