It’s wrong to militarise what is a humanitarian problem say local campaigners.
That’s the view of Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings Community of Sanctuary when responding to this weekend’s revelations that plans were being drawn up by government to send Royal Navy warships to block migrants from crossing the Channel.
It has been widely reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel has made a formal request to the Ministry of Defence for help to deal with the ‘migrant crisis’ even although an official at the ministry has reportedly branded the proposed crackdown as ‘completely potty’.
Ms Patel has also appointed a former Royal Marine to take charge of operations, paving the way for interceptions and the turning back of the small boats to begin.
The move came after many more migrants, including one in a wheelchair, were brought ashore from a Border Force boat on another busy day for Channel crossings. More than 130 migrants succeeded in making the perilous journey to the UK on Friday – part of a surge Ms Patel condemned as ‘appalling’.
More than 4,000 migrants have now reached the UK this year by crossing the English Channel in small boats, more than 650 so far this month alone. Setting off from Calais in overcrowded craft, unsuitable for the arduous journey, they come ashore along the Kent and Sussex coastline with many of those seeking refuge being seen landing off Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea.
A spokesperson for the The Refugee Buddy Project: Hastings, Rother and Wealden told Hastings In Focus: “We are deeply concerned about the rhetoric being used by the Government about the people seeking refuge coming across the Channel in small boats.
“To suggest that the best way to stop people making this journey is by engaging the Royal Navy to patrol the crossing is incredibly short-sighted and serves only to inflame an already dangerous situation. It is also in direct contradiction to the statement made in June by Ms Patel when she promised a more compassionate and people-first policy at the Home Office.
“The Government needs to be creating and maintaining sufficient safe and legal routes into the UK so that people do not have to risk their lives to seek safety. The Channel is the World’s busiest shipping lane and people only make the journey across it out of desperation. People traffickers play on the combination of this desperation, and the hostility of our Government and its refusal to create sufficient safe and legal routes. A compassionate and people-first policy would not only assist people to safely claim asylum and seek sanctuary in our country, but also combat the problem of people traffickers.
“This hostility is now being compounded by the so-called ‘fair borders bill’ due to be introduced by Ms Patel this year, which aims to make it even more difficult for people seeking asylum to make their claim and have it heard fairly; the ongoing threat to the Judicial review process; and the claim from MP Chris Philp in The Guardian that the Government intends to ‘return as many migrants… as possible’ while making no reference to due process and the rights – enshrined in international law – of asylum seekers to have their cases fairy heard. This is a doubling down on the hostile environment, not a move away from it as Ms Patel has promised.
“The majority of people of Hastings, Rother and Wealden are in favour of welcoming those seeking refuge, and regularly express their concern to us about the plight of those making the dangerous journey across The Channel. We will continue to speak up for those seeking refuge and those supporting them here in our town.”
Hastings Supports Refugees and Hastings City of Sanctuary added: “The statements by the Home Secretary regarding the increase in boat landings on the south coast of the UK, for us marks an extremely worrying change of emphasis. Just a few weeks ago she was pledging a ‘people first’ approach to immigration.
“The suggestion of involving the Royal Navy to intercept boats full of vulnerable people, many of whom have fled war, aggression and persecution by the military is inappropriate.
“It is not illegal to claim asylum and to call them ‘illegal immigrants’ feeds into this myth. To be able to claim asylum is our legal right under international law. However, you must be physically present within a country to be able to claim this right. There is no legal way for those seeking asylum to get to the UK from mainland Europe. This then drives desperate people to desperate and dangerous methods to get here.
“People smuggling is rife on the Northern French coast, often using violent means to part vulnerable people with funds to pay to cross the busiest shipping lane in the world in a small rubber dinghy. To quote Care 4 Calais the NGO working with refugees on the ground in France, ‘…they don’t want to sneak into our country – all they want is a fair hearing for their claims’.
“We feel a better use of the UK’s resources would be to work with French authorities to develop a safe and secure way for people to be able to claim asylum rather than militarising what is a humanitarian problem.”