On Friday 15 December, it was reported that another asylum seeker had been drowned, crossing the English Channel in a small boat. It was reported by The Guardian that rescue ships had reached the boat about 30 minutes after the emergency began at midnight and one person onboard had been pronounced dead. It was also noted that another person had been taken to hospital in Calais by helicopter in a critical condition and that sea and air searches of the area continued, according to the Premar Manche, a French agency that monitors the Channel.
It was further reported that Premar Manche had said that the Cross Griz Nez, which is a coordination centre for rescue operations in Pas-de-Calais, had received a message that a migrant boat was in difficulty around midnight. It was also noted that the agency had said that “the centre dispatched the Esvagt Charlie, a state-chartered rescue ship, which took about 30 minutes to reach the wreck site”.
“Another terrible and avoidable tragedy”
Enver Solomon, chief executive officer of the Refugee Council, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that, “this is yet another terrible and avoidable tragedy. Our thoughts are with the victim, the survivors and their loved ones. These appalling deaths are becoming too common and there is an urgent need to put in place safe routes so people don’t have to take dangerous journeys across the world’s busiest shipping lane.
“Instead, the government is pushing ahead with its unworkable and unprincipled Rwanda plan as well as shutting down existing safe ways to get to the UK. People flee persecution and violence out of desperation, to find safety and protect their families. The government must take action now and respond in a compassionate way to prevent future tragedies and protect human life.”
By way of response, it was reported in The Guardian that Labour chairwoman Anneliese Dodds had said that there “needs to be far more done to break up” the human trafficking gangs that are facilitating boat crossings. When asked for her reaction to the confirmation that a person has died attempting to cross the Channel on Friday, Dodds told Sky News:
“It is obviously absolutely awful, heartbreaking news. One can barely imagine what it must have been like in the middle of the night with freezing cold water and the terror and fear for people on that vessel. And I think yet again this underlines really that the criminal people smuggling gangs are putting individuals in absolutely appalling danger. They are profiting from this really disgracefully, and there needs to be far more done to break up those criminal people smuggling gangs. But above all, I think this morning, we would all be really thinking about that person who has died and want to pass on our sympathy to their family.”
Human compassion in a dystopian world
This was at least a reasonably decent response from Dodds, with a concentration on the plight of the poor soul who had lost their life. It was also a considerably more compassionate response, than we often hear from politicians after such tragedies.
Indeed, it is notable that politicians often go on about having to break up criminal gangs, with regards to the Channel crossings and concentrate on that issue. Far less often are heard words of sympathy and care about the people in the boats, or any understanding of why they have got there in the first place. Perhaps if there was more sympathy and care shown by politicians, then the problem would be solved a lot more easily, with legal routes and a fair and functioning asylum system.
Of course, it is also all part of the dehumanising of asylum seekers and the oft told untruth that those who come here for asylum are somehow ‘illegal’ This is simply a lie, as we have obligations under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees which according to the UN, “provides the internationally recognized definition of a refugee and outlines the legal protection, rights and assistance a refugee is entitled to receive.”
By concentrating on the criminal gangs, politicians are trying to make the whole process of seeking asylum appear to be something that is illegal, instead of being an issue to do with human safety and human compassion. Consequently, we have descended into a nightmarish, dystopian world, where we have a government trying to pass legislation, which somehow proves that Rwanda is a safe country, when the all the evidence suggests otherwise.
Safe routes are needed
If politicians want to ‘stop the boats’ , the solution is simple; re-open the legal and safe routes for asylum seekers to come to our shores, so that they are not reliant on criminal gangs and, instead of throwing money at an unworkable scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, use a fraction of the money to employ more people to process asylum claims, cut the backlog and get to fair decisions more quickly. That would be far better for both asylum seekers and for the country in general.