By Eirian Jones | Contributor
The drowning of 27 people in the English Channel on November 25 has been declared as the “worst disaster on record” according to the UN Migration Agency since recording began in 2014.
At least one pregnant woman and three children were among the 27 migrants fleeing from Iraq or Iran, who drowned in the waters off the coast of France after an inflatable boat capsized whilst attempting to reach Britain. The bodies were brought into the port of Calais by boat and helicopter throughout the evening, where volunteers with local migrant aid associations lit candles and held aloft placards reading “How many more?” Two men were rescued but were hospitalized immediately with severe hypothermia.
French media believe the boat to have set off from Loon-Plage near Dunkirk and were most likely camping near Grande-Synthe, where there are several migrant camps. The largest, home to about 1,500 people, was dismantled last week.
More than 24,000 people have made the perilous crossing from France to the UK by boat this year; a sharp rise from 8,404 in 2020. There is no official record of how many lives have been lost attempting to make the crossing, however, an estimated 166 people have been recorded missing or dead in the Channel and over 22,930 in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.
The reasons for attempting this journey vary from person to person. Many Syrians have been fleeing their war-torn country since the civil war began in 2011, resulting in the 2015 European migrant crisis. Amongst adults, Iran was the top nationality claiming asylum in the UK this year as Iran’s hardline Islamic state and their interpretation of Sharia law causes Iranian Kurds and Christians to flee due to their fear of persecution. Similarly, women and non-Muslims face particular suppression under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Many flee from Yemen as a result of the civil war and air strikes between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebel forces where, it’s estimated, over 233,000 deaths have been caused, including over 10,000 children. Many more migrants flee from Iraq, Eritrea, Sudan and Vietnam, amongst other countries.
The UK Government has said that refugees should take refuge in the first safe country they reach, and can make claims elsewhere if this does not happen. In 2020 Germany received the highest number of asylum applications, followed by France, with 122,015 and 93,475 applications respectively. During that period, the UK received a smaller number of refugees (36,040).
Priti Patel has since stated that there is “no quick fix” to this crisis and was due to meet with the French Home Secretary over the weekend, though the meeting was called off as a response to a public letter released by Boris Johnson. This letter consisted of a five-step plan that the Prime Minister believed both sides of the channel should adopt in order to tackle the ongoing situation.
Pierre Henry, the former director of France Terre D’Asile, a migrants’ rights group, has stated that “this situation is the result of Britain’s shameful policy”. France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin has also declared that they are now ready for a serious discussion with Britain on the migrant crisis. He added that France had been handling the issue for 25 years and it was now time that London “woke up to the situation”.
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