UK’s ‘bizarre’ £44.5m security pledge to France disregards vulnerable child migrants

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron visit the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, near Camberley, England, Thursday, ahead of the UK-France summit talks. (AP)
Updated 19 January 2018
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UK’s ‘bizarre’ £44.5m security pledge to France disregards vulnerable child migrants

LONDON: Theresa May’s promise to beef up border security in Calais with a £44.5 million cash injection during a UK-French summit on Thursday would be better spent creating safe, legal channels for migrants stranded at the border, refugee organizations said.
The UK Prime Minister committed £44.5 million, on top of the £100 million believed to have been spent so far on security in the area, toward fencing, CCTV cameras and infrared detection technology at Calais and other ports along the Channel.
Speaking during a press conference following private talks at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, May said the UK and France share a “comprehensive approach to mass migration” and confirmed their continued committed to the 2003 Le Touquet agreement, which prevents people from entering the UK at the Calais border and allows the two countries to station immigration officials on each other’s soil.
“The Calais issue has been a thorn in the side for both governments for 15 years or so now and both countries have an interest in managing it, so it’s not surprising to see this continued back and forth,” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, and a senior fellow of the UK in a Changing Europe program.
The two premiers were keen to convey the enduring strength of Anglo-French relations in the face of Britain’s impending departure from the EU. Macron made a point of saying ahead of the summit that France would “look with kindness” on any UK decision to reverse Brexit.
“To some extent the prospect of Brexit does arguably slightly weaken the UK’s negotiating position…so the French are exacting another price for their assistance in this,” Portes said.
Aid groups operating in northern France, where up to 100 children are thought to be sleeping rough, highlighted the UK’s failure to follow through on existing commitments and questioned the allocation of further funds to security forces in France.
“It’s bizarre that this money is going once again into security and not into protecting vulnerable people,” said Annie Gavrilescu, France Regional Manager for Help Refugees UK.
“Right now this money is paying for an abusive police force that’s using tear gas and being very violent toward refugees.”
The Refugee Rights Data Project published findings in October 2017 saying that French police “use beatings, tear gas and confiscation” against refugees in Calais. This followed a Human Rights Watch report in July entitled “‘Like Living in Hell’: Police Abuses Against Child and Adult Migrants in Calais,” which said French authorities were turning a blind eye to widespread reports of abuse.
Speaking ahead of the summit Gavrilescu said the “ridiculous amount” spent so far by the UK government on security in Calais would be put to better use by providing safe channels for child migrants with legitimate asylum claims.
“Accessing that procedure is nigh on impossible because of bureaucratic blockages. If this money was actually used to increase the capacity to deal with these cases then people wouldn’t have to gather in Calais and they would take legal and safe routes into the UK.”
“It would literally save lives.”
The UK government has been heavily criticized for agreeing to accept only 480 unaccompanied minors instead of the 3,000 calculated to be the country’s fair share under the “Dubs scheme.”
A 15-year-old boy killed last month became the fifth child to die at the Calais border in two years with the legal right to be in the UK with their families.
Children going through the proper legal channels to process their claims are effectively “penalized for following the rules,” said Charlotte Morris, a spokesperson at Safe Passage, which works primarily with unaccompanied child refugees.
One child in the organization’s care has been waiting for over 10 months for his papers to arrive so he can join family members in the UK. “If he just jumped on the back of a lorry he’d be there the next day. We keep telling him to wait but the Home Office keeps delaying his case.”
“There’s no incentive for those kids not to take the unsafe, illegal route, smuggling themselves in to reach their relatives,” Morris said.
Macron has accused some aid organizations of encouraging refugees to enter the UK illegally and exaggerating claims of police brutality toward migrants around Calais.
Between 700 and 1,000 migrants are still stranded around Calais, despite the refugee camp known as the “Jungle” being dismantled in 2016.
“Until there are proper safe legal routes, children are going to continue to risk their lives trying to take illegal routes,” Morris said.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today program prior to the summit, Ed Llewellyn, UK ambassador to Paris said the border was now “one of the most secure in Europe.”


Migrants keep crossing Strait of Gibraltar despite bad weather

Updated 13 December 2018
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Migrants keep crossing Strait of Gibraltar despite bad weather

  • The onset of autumn, with the cold, storms and fog, has not stopped migrants from crossing the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain
  • On some days as many as over 500 migrants can be brought to shore by Spain’s maritime rescuers

TARIFA, Spain: A radio message comes in from a Spanish maritime rescue boat to the service’s command center in the southern town of Tarifa: “34 migrants rescued.”
The onset of autumn, with the cold, storms and fog, has not stopped migrants from crossing the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain, a journey that has this year claimed the lives of hundreds of youths.
From the heights of Tarifa, veteran sailors work in shifts behind radar screens at the rescue service command center monitoring the Strait of Gibraltar, through which 100,000 ships transit every year.
“When the weather is good we can see homes in North Africa from here,” said its head, Adolfo Serrano.
Just 14 kilometers (nine miles) separates northern Morocco from Spain’s southern Andalusia region at the Strait’s narrowest point.
“But with a quickly changing sea, strong currents, fogs that can surprise you, it’s a dangerous crossing,” added Serrano.
It is especially perilous because human traffickers put migrants on packed inflatable boats or plastic canoes that can easily overturn, he said.
“I can’t remember an autumn like this. Boats keep arriving with pregnant women, children,” said Jose Antonio Parra, a mechanic of 25 years experience with the Guardia Civil police force’s maritime unit.
The 34 migrants rescued from an inflatable boat — including six females who appeared to be in their teens — were taken to the port of Algeciras, where they were first attended to by the Red Cross before being handed to police.
Small migrant boats are hard to detect by radar. They are often only located when the migrants themselves sound the alarm by telephone.
Rescuers did not detect the boat which sunk on November 5 during a storm off the coast of the town of Barbate, an hour’s drive west of Algeciras, killing 23 young Moroccans.
Only 21 people on board survived.
“There was a hell of a storm. Many of them did not know how to swim,” said spokesman for the Guardia Civil in Cadiz province, Manuel Gonzalez.
Andalusia’s regional government took charge of nine minors who survived, while police jailed two passengers suspected of having steered the boat.
The other 10 adults who were on board were ordered back to Morocco under an agreement between Madrid and Rabat.
Since then, more bodies have washed ashore on other beaches.
Nine sub-Saharan African migrants drowned after spending a week adrift at sea, according to the only survivor of the ordeal, a Guinean teenager who saw his brother die, said Gonzalez.
The migrants had paid 700 euros ($800 dollars) each for what they had been told would be a trip on board a rigid-hulled inflatable boat with an engine but were instead forced to take a “toy-style boat” with just one oar, he added.
Between January and December 2, 687 migrants died trying to enter Spain by sea, more than three times as many as last year, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) figures.
More migrants have died trying to reach Italy and Malta this year — nearly 1,300 — but Spain has become the main entry point for migrants trying to reach Europe by sea. More than 55,000 migrants have arrived in the country so far this year.
Rescuers describe two types of migrants: Sub-Saharan African migrants, who sing when rescuers arrive to pluck them from the sea, and Moroccans who try at all costs to reach the shore without being detected because they face deportation back to Morocco if caught.
“Our boat rocked, there was so much joy,” Abou Bacari, an 18-year-old who left Ivory Coast two years ago after he lost his job at a banana plantation, told AFP in Madrid, as he recalled his rescue at sea off the Spanish coast in October.
There were 70 people on board the inflatable boat, including four children and eight women, when it departed Tangiers for Spain, he said.
“Guineans, Malians, Ivorians... we were lost at sea for two days,” Bacari said, adding “even the men cried” when the boat developed a puncture.
On some days — such as last weekend — as many as over 500 migrants can be brought to shore by Spain’s maritime rescuers.
“I had never before seen a boat just with 45 migrants aged around 14-15 on board. Even the one who steered it, who supposedly worked for the traffickers, was a minor,” said Parra.
It’s now 30 years since the first photo of the body of a drowned migrant on a beach in Andalusia was published.
Today rows of tombstones at Tarifa’s cemetery mark where unnamed migrants are buried.
“Sometimes we find migrants with their names tattooed on their arms in case they die. We are seeing a normalization of death and that is unacceptable,” said Jose Villajos, the head of an association that helps migrants founded in Algeciras in 1991.
He accused the European Union of “using North African countries to stop migration and act a bit like Europe’s police but this policy leads to even more deaths.”
“When agreements are being ironed out with African countries like Morocco, curiously, the number of migrant boats increase greatly because it is a way to put pressure on Europe,” he claimed.
Maria Jesus Herrera, the head of the IOM mission in Spain, said that while it was important to increase cooperation with the migrants’ country of origin to help boost their living standards, Europe must at the same time “open regular channels of emigration, which are safe and dignified.”