World Insights: Tragedy in English Channel highlights urgency for safer routes, human dignity protection

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LONDON, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- Experts have called for a holistic approach to address the illegal immigration crisis after 27 people have drowned in the English Channel, urging safer routes, protecting the dignity of migrants and cooperation between Britain and France instead of accusing one another.


A growing number of illegal immigrants made Channel crossings to Britain recently. The BBC reported that more than 1,000 people had arrived in a single day in November, for the first time, and more than 25,000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year.

As taking an airplane or ferry have become impossible due to strict border controls, small boat crossings have increased, Lucy Mayblin, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Sheffield, told Xinhua in an interview.

"They create a business model for smugglers. And the outcome is a deadly spiral of increasingly dangerous routes being taken, stricter border controls, more deaths, and so the spiral continues," she explained.

Europe and developed countries elsewhere should expand safe routes and also offer alternative routes, such as increased labor migration so they do not have to make long and treacherous journeys, said Jenny Phillimore, professor of Migration and Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham.

"There are 85 million people displaced, and only 14 percent of them go to developed countries, and a tiny proportion attempt to get to the UK," Phillimore said.

Multilateral responses have to involve wealthy states accepting that refugees exist and agreeing to play a serious role in hosting them, said Mayblin, noting that Britain hosts less than 1 percent of the world's refugees.

Currently, she said, rich countries' main contribution is funding for the United Nations (UN) refugee agency to quarantine people in camps in their regions of origin, and spending billions every year on border fences, patrols, pushbacks, deportations, and detention centers.


Mayblin called on decision makers to put human dignity at the heart of any answer, focusing on securing people's access to basic human rights, including sanitary accommodation, healthcare, free legal advice and others.

"The UK Home Office is advertising 385-million-pound (about 512-million-U.S.-dollar) worth of contracts for border controls in Calais next year alone," she said. "How might this money be spent if human dignity were put at the heart of a plan to develop sustainable responses?"

Phillimore said it is essential to prevent the drivers of migration by reducing global inequality, investing heavily in ensuring sustainability in less developed countries, and in political solutions to conflict.

Experts noted that most people do not actually get very far, with 85 percent of the world's refugees in countries neighboring the one they fled. Often, people travel far because they experience ill treatment or hardship in the countries they travel through, or because they have family in a particular foreign country whom they want to reunite with.


Matthieu Tardis, an expert on migration at France's Institute for International Relations, said Brexit plays a part in the surge of illegal immigrants arriving in Britain as the Dublin Regulation that restricts migrants' movement within the European Union (EU) no longer applies to Britain, which means more job opportunities and more freedom for refugees in Britain than in the EU.

"People want safety, and a better life for their families. The crossing of the English Channel is often the last step in a harrowing journey that can take months of even years," said Phillimore.

However, Britain does not seem keen to receive refugees. The British government announced in July that it will overhaul its asylum system to make it a criminal offense to knowingly arrive in the country without permission. Its home secretary said people should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and nobody needs to flee France in order to be safe.

The Britain-France row has escalated as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed in a public letter to allow all illegal immigrants who crossed the Channel to be returned to significantly reduce the incentive for people to put their lives in the hands of traffickers.

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Johnson of not being "serious" by making a public call on Twitter. Angered by the British move, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin withdrew an invitation for the British home secretary's presence at talks with other European countries in Calais on Sunday. Enditem

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