By Sam Colvett
On Monday, November 14th, the UK and France signed an agreement that will contribute British forces to patrol the English Channel. The deal would also increase the amount of aid the UK is giving to French patrol efforts in exchange for an augmentation of French forces as well.
Migrant crossings in the English Channel have significantly increased this year compared to previous years. According to the Associated Press, over 40,000 people have already attempted the crossing this year alone, which is just shy of double the people who attempted the crossing in 2021 and over quadruple the numbers from 2020.
Partially driving the increase in numbers is the migration of many Albanian nationals through France and to the UK. The BBC reports that 12,000 Albanians have arrived in the UK in boats, which is a dramatic increase from the 50 that arrived in all of 2020.
The agreement comes at a time when the British government is desperately seeking avenues to decrease the backlogs of asylum applications. This effort has also included shipping migrants to Rwanda for processing. In 2019, the government also scrapped a “customer service” standard that required asylum applications to be processed in 6 months, which has led to an increased length of case processing time for an increased number of people seeking protection.
These policies are comparable to policies within the United States that seek to find a “safe third country” for many asylum seekers and to create a “rocket docket” for the rapid processing of asylum claims, which have both been criticized by advocacy organizations for their failures to fully comply with national obligations under refugee and asylum law.
According to the BBC, some contend that the UK needs a continent-wide international migration agreement. However, the UK “chose not to be part of the EU's irregular migrant management policies, as part of Brexit,” and does not have a returns agreement with the EU.
As a result, the intent of the new agreement between the UK and France is to reduce the number of migrants making the journey to the UK. This move, however, has been met with controversy from both conservative members of the UK parliament and migrant advocacy groups. The Guardian quotes Kevin Mills, a member of the Border Staff, in criticizing the policy for a lack of detention. “If you stop thousands today and let most of them go, how many are just going to try again tomorrow? There is no plan as far as I can see,” he claims.
Meanwhile, Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council charity in Britain, criticizes the deal for its potential effect on those seeking to claim asylum in the UK. It ignores “the fact that a majority of those trying to cross were later found to have a legitimate asylum claim,” he says, adding that such crossings represent “a global issue which will not be resolved by enforcement measures alone.”
While migration policies are assuredly complex, the British and French governments should be cautious about their implementation of patrols under this agreement. Backlogs in asylum processing should definitely be addressed, but not at the sacrifice of due process for what could be legitimate claims for asylum.