Why record Channel drownings are unlikely to deter migrants

Desperation and hopes of a better life outweigh fears about perilous crossing

Migrants on the Channel
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Desperate migrants are vowing to continue attempting dangerous sea crossings despite the drowning of at least 27 people in the deadliest day in the English Channel since records began, according to reports.

After visiting a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Dunkirk following Wednesday’s tragedy, The Guardian’s security editor Dan Sabbagh reported that “everybody says they still have the same plan, to try to get on a boat to the UK”.

“Everybody knows the risks,” he wrote. But the crossings will continue “because they do not believe that death will come to them – and because of their hope for a better life”.

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An Iraqi Kurd migrant named only as Mira told the paper that he had left his home in the city of Sulaymaniyah because “there is no life” there. That phrase, said Sabbagh, was “repeated by many in and around the camp” who are “ready to make the perilous journey in the hope of eventually making money to send back home”.

Another migrant, Muhammed, said Britain was his favoured destination because he has “friends in Nottingham, in London and Birmingham”.

An Iraqi Kurd at the same camp told the Daily Mail that he has tried to cross the channel 11 times so far and would continue trying, even in a fragile dinghy. “If I don’t get in this year, I’ll try again next year – it’s very dangerous but we’re obligated to try again,” he said.

A source told the paper that the “thousands of migrants in France” are” in a state of collective hysteria”, because “by the time they reach France, they are exhausted”.

“They are not thinking straight,” the source said. “They can’t go back, only forward”.

People-smugglers are also reported to be determined to ensure that the crossings do not stop. Criminals charging up to £6,000 for each crossing “put guns to the heads of anyone who dithers about getting on a boat”, because “the more seats they fill on a vessel, the more money they make”.

The “lure” of the UK is down to a “few main factors”, said The Times – namely “work, family ties and the English language”. Informal work in the black market is “easier to find in Britain”, and many people who make it across will have family and contacts here who can “smooth their path”. And most migrants are more likely to already speak at least some English than other European languages.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has claimed that 70% of people crossing the Channel in small boats are economic migrants, but this figure been disputed by the Refugee Council.

Undocumented economic migrants “do not generally deliver themselves into the hands of Home Office officials as soon as they reach UK soil”, The Guardian noted. The paper pointed out that Patel and the then immigration minister Chris Philp rejected recommendations to make payments of £12.11 a week to asylum seekers in UK hotels for essential living needs because they “did not want to further increase any possible pull factors”.

Patel has also proposed a “turn back the boats” policy. But the policy has “triggered a heated battle inside the government amid fears that people on the boats could puncture them as UK vessels try to turn them around, meaning they would have to be rescued”, The Telegraph reported.

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