Wave of Iranian asylum seekers puts UK on alert

A baby is taken to the vessel of the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms, after being rescued in the Central Mediterranean Sea, 72 km from Al-Khums, Libya. (AP)
Updated 03 January 2019

Wave of Iranian asylum seekers puts UK on alert

LONDON, PARIS: A British navy ship was preparing on Thursday to patrol the Channel in response to a wave of mostly Iranian asylum seekers risking the crossing from France in dinghies.

An Iranian and a British national have been arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal migration across the Channel, the world’s busiest shipping lane.

Attempts to get to Britain aboard small craft have surged in the last three months, with numbers spiking over the Christmas holidays.

The offshore patrol vessel HMS Mersey — currently in the Channel port of Portsmouth — was “available and ready” to be deployed, a Ministry of Defense source told the domestic Press Association news agency.

A Defense Ministry spokesman told AFP: “Our armed forces stand ready to provide additional capacity and expertise to assist the Home Office with the response to migrant crossings.

“Royal Navy ships continue to conduct patrols to protect the integrity of UK territorial waters.”

Some 539 people crossed the Strait of Dover — the Channel’s narrowest part at 33 km wide — in 2018. Eighty percent made the journey in the last three months, said Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the interior minister.

Almost all those who have made it to Britain have requested asylum, Javid said Wednesday, but he questioned whether someone who had left the safety of France could be a “genuine asylum seeker.”

He immediately faced a barrage of criticism from opposition MPs.

Javid said any migrants picked up in British waters would be taken to a UK port.

Meanwhile a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester, northwest England, on Wednesday “on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK,” a National Crime Agency spokeswoman said.

The investigation is ongoing.

Britain is redeploying two Border Force cutters from the Mediterranean in response to the situation.

The Sunday Times newspaper, reporting from a migrant camp on the French coast, said a growing number of well-educated Iranians were attempting the Channel crossing. It cited Ali, 34, a car salesman from Tehran, as saying his journey from the Iranian capital to Britain would end up costing £15,000 ($18,900), with payments in stages to a Kurd-dominated people-smuggling gang.

Migrant report

The number of migrants who died or went missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean fell by more than a quarter in 2018 over the previous year, to 2,262, the UN refugee agency said Thursday.

The number of migrants who arrived in Europe after surviving the sea crossing also dropped by roughly the same proportion last year to 113,482 after 172,301 in 2017, according to the UNHCR’s full-year figures.

A total of 3,139 were reported dead or missing in 2017.

“The Mediterranean has been for years the most deadly sea crossing in the world for refugees and migrants,” UNHCR spokeswoman Celine Schmitt told AFP in Paris.

The data also confirmed that Spain had become the main gateway into Europe for migrants and refugees who travel from north Africa, with 55,756 people registered as arriving there by sea in 2018.

Italy, under its hard-line anti-immigration government, cut the number of arrivals dramatically last year to 23,371 — around a fifth of the number who arrived in 2017 when 119,369 crossed from Libya.

All of the figures are far down from their peak in 2015 when an estimated 1 million people crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, mostly from Turkey into Greece.

The effects of that influx continue to reverberate around the continent, sparking debate about immigration policies and fueling far-right parties in countries that have welcomed large numbers of refugees, such as Italy, Germany and Sweden.

Rescue boats carrying migrants also sparked repeated flareups among European countries in 2018 after Italy’s populist government closed its ports to charity-run ships which pick up stranded migrants.

The EU has been working with north African countries, particularly conflict-wracked Libya, by offering aid money and help with border patrols in a bid to stem the flow of people.

The EU has also financed border protection and development projects in other impoverished African states that are a source of migrants or serve as transit routes.

The largest group of migrants who arrived in Europe in 2018 came from the west African state of Guinea (13,068) followed by Morocco (12,745) and Mali (10,327).

Syrians were the fourth biggest group (9,839), followed by Afghans (7,621) and Iraqis (7,333).


UK to reopen thousands of shops in easing of coronavirus lockdown, says Boris Johnson

Updated 25 May 2020

UK to reopen thousands of shops in easing of coronavirus lockdown, says Boris Johnson

  • From June 1, outdoor markets and car showrooms could be reopened
  • Johnson is keen to restart an economy which has been all but shut down since Britain entered a lockdown

LONDON: Britain will reopen thousands of high street shops, department stores and shopping centers next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, setting out a timetable for businesses as part of moves to ease the coronavirus lockdown.
He told a news conference that from June 1, outdoor markets and car showrooms could be reopened as soon as they are able to meet the COVID-19 secure guidelines, and all other non-essential retail from June 15 if the government’s tests are met.
Johnson is keen to restart an economy which has been all but shut down since Britain entered a lockdown to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, but also fears a second peak of infection if measures are eased too quickly.

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“Today, I want to give the retail sector notice of our intentions to reopen shops, so they too can get ready,” Johnson said. “There are careful but deliberate steps on the road to rebuilding our country.”
The government said shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets, would be expected to be able to reopen from June 15, giving them three weeks to prepare.
It said that businesses would only be able to open from those dates once they had completed a risk assessment, in consultation with trade union representatives or workers, and are confident they are managing the risks.
“The high street sits at the heart of every community in the country,” Business minister Alok Sharma said in a statement.
“Enabling these businesses to open will be a critical step on the road to rebuilding our economy, and will support millions of jobs across the UK.”