The UK and France signed an agreement aiming to reduce illegal immigration across the English Channel Saturday. The deal was signed by British Home Secretary Priti Patel and French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
In 2020 alone, at least 8,000 illegal immigrants arriving in small boats have crossed the Channel. This represents a vast increase compared to the 1,835 crossings made in 2019. The home secretary has previously declared it a priority to reduce such journeys, stating that “illegal migration exists for one fundamental reason: that is because there are criminal gangs – people traffickers – facilitating this trade.”
This deal would provide sophisticated equipment, including drones, to help the French police patrol the coastline where migrants cross. The number of police officers assigned to this task will also nearly double as a result of the agreement.
Many believe the Channel, which has served as a gateway for asylum seekers, should not be further militarized. A press release by Amnesty International stated, “This continued focus on simply shutting down routes to the UK is blinkered and reckless – it does nothing but increase the risks that people, who have already endured incredible hardship, are compelled to take.”
While human rights organizations have argued for more lenient measures, including providing safe passage across the Channel for potential asylum seekers, the Conservative-led government has made curbing illegal immigration a priority. The UK requires asylum seekers to be on British soil when applying for asylum, incentivizing potential refugees to make the treacherous crossing from France with shoddy equipment and small boats.
This agreement comes as the UK prepares for Brexit transition, set to occur at the end of this year. The home secretary has also announced plans to revamp the asylum system in 2021, indicating potentially large changes for asylum seekers.