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Tragedy on the Channel

On Wednesday 24th November, smugglers pushed an inflatable dinghy along the coast of northern France towards the English Channel. The migrants on the dinghy each had their own aspirations: some to be reunited with their families, some to find work, and others to find a place to study. But dreams were shattered. It was a fishing boat that first spotted the capsized dinghy, alerting authorities in alarm. At least 27 people died, making it one of the deadliest crossings in recorded history. Of those 27 people that succumbed their lives to the freezing cold water, seventeen were men, seven were women – one of whom was pregnant – and three were children.

This tragedy occurred ironically just a few days after French and British authorities reached an agreement on 15th November “to prevent 100% of crossings”. Franco-British relations are as sour as they can be, with French fishermen blocking British trucks the following Friday, preventing them from entering or leaving the Channel, thus reigniting the fishing license debate. UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, publicly posted the letter he had sent to French president, Emmanuel Macron, demanding that France take back all refugees who enter UK borders – a proposal that the French have dismissed countless times already. Making matters worse, one French official claimed that this letter was not the original draft that Johnson had sent to the French government.

With English being a globally spoken language and the UK requiring less documentation than other countries to work, an increasing number of migrants are choosing to cross the treacherous path through the English Channel. In 2019, fewer than two thousand people made the voyage, but in 2020 that number had risen exponentially to eight thousand four hundred and seventeen. At the start of 2021, the total stood at twenty-five thousand.  

Drafted to discourage more refugees from crossing the Channel, the Nationality and Borders Bill has recently come under fire. First set into motion in the House of Commons on 6th July last year, it essentially changes the entire concept of British nationality. It implements a two-tier system that differentiates migrants based on method of arrival: “Group 1 refugees” refers to those who arrive in the country legally, while “Group 2 refugees” denotes those who come to the British Isles through illegal methods. The bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Commons last December and is currently at the Committee stage in the House of Lords. The UK Law Society voices their concerns about this bill, writing on their website that this bill is likely to “be incompatible with international law, damage access to justice, and impact [on] the role of lawyers in immigration cases.”

With at least 132,349 refugees in the UK, this prompts the question of how can ordinary citizens help those who are fleeing from their home countries due to war and persecution? There are many ways to give help, and not all involve monetary donations. One possibility is to host refugees in your home. Like the Refugees Welcome initiative that was started in Germany – a country with one of the highest asylum applicants – there are several programmes that allow you to meet refugees and facilitate their moving process. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) UK, shares several touching stories of how refugees have been warmly welcomed into various households and become part of the community.

Another fantastic way to help asylum seekers can be to volunteer your skills. You could be a fantastic English teacher, or teach basketball, or help in the process of matching refugees with specific employers. As students, we can also petition our respective universities to offer scholarship programmes for refugees. There are many different ways to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into our community, and to provide them with a warm home, something that everyone deserves no matter where they come from.

Image courtesy of Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons