Ministers face renewed pressure over boat crossings in UK

Calls for action have also come from within the Conservative Party. Backbench MP and ex-party chairman Sir Jake Berry said “only radical changes can truly turn the tide”…reports Asian Lite News

Ministers are facing renewed pressure to tackle boat crossings in the Channel after six migrants died when a vessel sank off the French coast on Saturday.

Labour said people smugglers were “running rings” around the government, and a Tory backbencher said the UK had a “moral duty, both to our own citizens and… asylum seekers, to act”.

The government has made “stopping the boats” one of its five priorities. Investigations continue into the incident which saw 59 people rescued.

The overloaded vessel, which got into difficulty and capsized 12 miles (20km) off Sangatte, was said to be one of a number of migrant vessels which set off in the hope of reaching the UK.

The incident happened in French waters at about 04:00 local time, with British and French teams working together to rescue the migrants. The people on board were reported to be mainly Afghan with some Sudanese.

More than 100,000 migrants have made the perilous journey across the Channel in small boats in the last five years. and more than 500 arrived on Saturday. A new law, the Illegal Migration Act, is central to the government’s plans to stop small boats crossing the Channel. It aims to deter people from making such journeys by detaining and removing those who do.

But plans to do this by sending some of them to Rwanda, to claim asylum there, is still subject to legal challenge.

Shadow cabinet minister Bridget Phillipson told BBC Breakfast: “The events in the Channel are absolutely tragic…. and demonstrate why we need much tougher action to crack down on criminal gangs that are exploiting people, putting them in harms’ way”.

She said saying convictions had fallen for people smugglers under the current government and accused ministers of presiding over a Home Office which was “increasingly shambolic and completely incompetent”. Phillipson added a “better, fairer system” was needed to address a backlog of asylum applications “that is completely out of control”.

Calls for action have also come from within the Conservative Party. Backbench MP and ex-party chairman Sir Jake Berry said “only radical changes can truly turn the tide”. Writing in the Sunday Express, he called for the UK to leave the European Convention of Human Rights, which he claimed would continue to block “any and all attempts to stop the boats”.

Refugee charity Care4Calais said the incident was an “appalling and preventable tragedy”, while the Refugee Council warned “more people will die” unless more safe routes to the UK are created.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who chaired a meeting with UK Border Force officials on Saturday, said the deaths were a “tragic loss of life”.

Conservative minister David TC Davies says the government has already stopped “a lot” of boats and insisted the controversial Rwanda policy was a solution. He said it would “take away the incentive to jump into rickety boats”.

A government spokesman said Labour was “cynically using the deaths” to make “cheap political points”. Labour was not offering any solutions, they said, while the government was “determined to break the people smuggling gangs’ business model and save people’s lives”.

The government has also struck an agreement with France, under which the UK will pay £500m over three years to fund more patrol officers and a new detention centre.

A Home Office spokesperson said the Nationality and Borders Act, which came into effect in April 2022, was “beginning to have an impact on the exploitative business model of people smugglers”, with more than 650 people arrested.

French authorities have in the past pointed to the English Channel’s long coast line as making it extremely difficult for the coastguard to prevent all small boat crossings.

On Saturday, 509 people made the journey across the Channel to the UK, government figures show, bringing this year’s total to 16,679.

A map showing the area of the search for the migrant boat in comparison with French and English coastlines.

The English Channel is one of the most dangerous and busiest shipping lanes in the world, with 600 tankers and 200 ferries passing through it every day.

French authorities said the migrant boat was first detected by a commercial vessel, before a French patrol boat was dispatched to the boat in distress.

French sea minister Hervé Berville said: “While we mourn these victims… it is the responsibility of human traffickers – of criminals – who send young people, women, adults, to their death on these maritime routes that are dangerous and lethal.”

Investigators are looking for any information that might lead them to the smuggling gang which organised the crossing.

Aid workers in Calais say more migrants have been arriving in recent weeks and have been living rough on the coastline. They say many of them are determined to get to the UK, despite warnings over the dangers of the crossing.

The pressure on the ministers follows criticism after 39 asylum seekers had to be moved off the Bibby Stockholm barge moored off the Dorset coast because of the discovery of Legionella bacteria in the water supply.

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