Record number of migrant boats crossed Channel in 2021

Record number of migrant boats crossed Channel in 2021
Migrants are helped by a Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboat before being taken to a beach in Dungeness, England. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 January 2022

Record number of migrant boats crossed Channel in 2021

Record number of migrant boats crossed Channel in 2021
  • The risks were tragically underscored on Nov. 24, when at least 27 migrants drowned as their boat sank after leaving France
  • The crossings have become a source of tension between France and Britain

LONDON: At least 28,300 people packed into small boats crossed the Channel from France to England’s south coast in 2021, an annual record that was three times the number of crossings a year earlier.
The leap in numbers, reported Tuesday by the Press Association news agency based on data from Britain’s Home Office, reflects the soaring number of migrants seeking to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane often in flimsy boats provided by people smugglers.
The risks were tragically underscored on Nov. 24, when at least 27 migrants drowned as their boat sank after leaving France. The crossings have become a source of tension between France and Britain.
As winter approached last year, November was the busiest month for crossings of the Channel, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) wide at its narrowest point, with 6,869 people reaching the UK On Nov. 11 alone, 1,185 people made the risky crossing in 33 boats.
The figures also show that the boats are getting larger, with an average of 28 people on board each vessel that arrived in the UK, up from just over 13 a year earlier.
Activists are calling for the British government to offer more opportunities to asylum-seekers in a bid to decrease the number of Channel crossings.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said that the UK government’s policy will lead to more deaths in the Dover Strait.
“People will continue to cross the Channel in flimsy boats, and smugglers will continue to profit, unless ministers open up more routes for refugees to claim asylum here,” Naor Hilton said.
Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais which supports refugees living in northern France, agreed.
“If the government were serious about stopping people smugglers, it would create a safe way for people to claim asylum and put people smugglers out of business once and for all,” she said.
But Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said that “seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel.”
He said that planned government reforms to immigration law will criminalize entering the UK without permission and introduce life prison terms for people smugglers as well as strengthening powers of the country’s Border Force to stop and redirect boats and clearing the way for asylum-seekers to have their claims processed outside the UK
When the reforms were introduced to Parliament in July, Naor Hilton said they were “built on a deep lack of understanding of the reality of refugee migration.”


US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group

US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group
Updated 28 January 2022

US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group

US must urge wary banks to help save Afghan lives: aid group
  • The United Nations and aid groups are struggling to get enough money into Afghanistan to fund operations in a country where millions are suffering extreme hunger and the economy

UNITED NATIONS: The United States needs to give written encouragement to banks to transfer money to Afghanistan for the United Nations and aid groups as they race to save millions of lives, the head of a top international aid group told Reuters on Thursday.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, who was UN aid chief from 2003-06, was blunt in his assessment: “It is now, paradoxically, the Western sanctions that is our main problem in saving lives in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban, which has long been blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist group, seized power from Afghanistan’s internationally-backed government in August. Billions of dollars in Afghan central bank reserves and international development aid were frozen to prevent it from falling into Taliban hands.
The United Nations and aid groups are struggling to get enough money into Afghanistan to fund operations in a country where millions are suffering extreme hunger and the economy, education and social services are on the brink of collapse.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Afghanistan was “hanging by a thread” and that a lack of liquidity in the country was limiting capacity to reach people in need.
Washington issued sanctions exemptions — known as general licenses — last month related to humanitarian work. But Egeland said that was not enough to convince international banks they could avoid the “wrath” of Washington if they transferred funds to Afghanistan for aid groups, and he urged the Treasury to issue something specific in writing.
“The US Treasury needs to be proactive here,” said Egeland, who was part of a meeting of aid groups with US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo last week.
Egeland urged the Treasury to give banks “a comfort letter saying that you are hereby encouraged... to help save lives in Afghanistan by providing whatever services are needed for the aid organizations.”
Guterres on Wednesday also called for “general licenses covering transactions necessary to all humanitarian activities.”
The US Treasury said in a statement after last week’s meeting with aid groups that Adeyemo acknowledged the wariness of the banks and said the Treasury would “continue to provide clarity on the scope of US sanctions” to banks and financial institutions.
He also “offered to increase communication with financial institutions engaging in or interested in doing business in Afghanistan to help get resources into the country as quickly as possible,” it said.
Egeland also appealed for billions of dollars to be released to help Afghan civilians.
Since August, some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves has been frozen abroad and $1.2 billion in development aid — administered by the World Bank — put on hold as donors seek to use it as leverage over the Taliban on issues including human rights.
“Grown men need to speak to each other because, really, I’m frustrated,” Egeland said. “The World Bank refers to the (World Bank) board and the donors — like the US — and the donors — like the US — refer to the World Bank. Can they please proactively fix it?“
“We’re losing in the race against death, and winter, and starvation,” he said.
Some former US officials and experts have suggested the administration of President Joe Biden could face backlash in Congress if it allows large amounts of money to be transferred to Afghanistan, amid fears it could fall into the hands of the Taliban.


Two more men charged in murder of Lebanese-born student Aya Hachem

Aya Hachem was shot on May 17, 2020, as she walked to a supermarket to buy food for her family to break their Ramadan fast. (Lancashire Police)
Aya Hachem was shot on May 17, 2020, as she walked to a supermarket to buy food for her family to break their Ramadan fast. (Lancashire Police)
Updated 28 January 2022

Two more men charged in murder of Lebanese-born student Aya Hachem

Aya Hachem was shot on May 17, 2020, as she walked to a supermarket to buy food for her family to break their Ramadan fast. (Lancashire Police)
  • Eight others were jailed last year for a total of more than 200 years for their parts in the killing of the 19-year-old, who was gunned down in the north of England in May 2020
  • She was the innocent victim of an assassination plot by a tire company boss, who had hired a gunman to kill a business rival who owned a car wash

LONDON: Another two men have been charged in connection with the murder of Lebanese-born law student Aya Hachem, who was gunned down during a drive-by shooting in England almost two years ago.

Eight people were jailed last year for a total of more than 200 years for their parts in the murder of the 19-year-old. She was shot on May 17, 2020, as she walked to a supermarket to buy food for her family to break their Ramadan fast. The bullet entered her left shoulder and passed through her body. She died later in hospital.

Tire company boss Feroz Suleman, 40, had arranged the execution of a rival businessman, Pachah Khan, 31, the owner of a car wash, but the gunman he hired instead shot dead Hachem, an innocent passer-by.

Suleman was sentenced to a minimum of 34 years in prison before parole can be considered. The gunman, Zamir Raja, 33, who missed his first shot before hitting Hachem with the second, was also jailed for a minimum of 34 years.

His driver, Anthony Ennis, 31, must serve at least 33 years. Accomplices Ayaz Hussain, 36, Abubakr Satia, 32, Uthman Satia, 29, and Kashif Manzoor, 26, were sentenced to minimum prison terms of 32 years, 28 years, 28 years and 27 years, respectively.

After a review of the evidence by Lancashire Police, Suhayl Suleman, 37, and Lewis Otway, 41, have now been charged with the murder of Hachem and the attempted murder of Khan.

Both men were interviewed in the early stages of the initial investigation but released without charge. Lancashire Police said both men are due to appear at a local court on Friday.

Hachem’s family fled violence in their native Lebanon when she was a child and settled in Blackburn, in the north of England, where she dreamed of becoming a solicitor.

After her death her father, Ismail, said his dreams had been destroyed by his daughter’s murder.

“I thought I would be safe here … in this small town. No big problems,” he told the BBC at the time. “All my dreams (were) Aya. Everything was Aya.

“She had big dreams, she helped many people. Anywhere, everybody liked Aya. But we lost Aya. My family lost Aya.”


US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades

US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades
Updated 28 January 2022

US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades

US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades
  • German FM Annalena Baerbock told parliament that her government was ‘working on a strong package of sanctions’ alongside allies ‘including Nord Stream 2’ if Russia attacks Ukraine
  • Germany pursued the pipeline with Russia, a vital source of gas to Europe’s largest economy, despite concerns that it will reduce Ukraine’s leverage by allowing Moscow to bypass its neighbor

WASHINGTON: The United States is confident Germany will not open the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine, a top US official said Thursday.
“If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s number three official, told reporters.
“I think the statements coming out of Berlin even today are very, very strong,” she said.
Asked why the United States was confident, she said that the pipeline still had not been tested or certified by German regulators.
“We will work with Germany to ensure that the pipeline does not move forward,” Nuland said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told parliament earlier Thursday that her government was “working on a strong package of sanctions” alongside Western allies “including Nord Stream 2” if Russia attacks Ukraine.
Germany controversially pursued the pipeline with Russia, a vital source of gas to Europe’s largest economy, despite concerns that it will reduce Ukraine’s leverage by allowing Moscow to bypass its neighbor.
President Joe Biden drew domestic criticism last year by not imposing sanctions on the operator of Nord Stream, arguing that the pipeline was nearly finished, but his administration instead reached an understanding with Germany to use the project as leverage.
Nuland also said that the United States had asked China — like Russia, a US adversary — to discourage action by Moscow, which has amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders.
“We are calling on Beijing to use its influence with Moscow to urge diplomacy because if there is a conflict in Ukraine, it is not going to be good for China either,” Nuland said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke late Wednesday Washington time about the crisis in a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin next month visits Beijing for the Olympics, which the United States is boycotting on the official level due to human rights concerns.


UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones

UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones
Updated 27 January 2022

UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones

UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones
  • Phone seizures may have been related to misunderstanding that Channel crossings were illegal
  • Policy meant hundreds or thousands of people were cut off from loved ones

LONDON: The UK Home Office has admitted exercising an unlawful secret policy of seizing cell phones from migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Lawyers representing the home secretary made the admission at the High Court on Thursday, while fighting legal action brought by three asylum seekers.

The men, from Iraq and Iran, were all arrested on arrival in the UK and were stripped of their possessions, despite committing no crime.

Government authorities kept their mobile phones for several months, leaving them unable to contact friends and family.

One of the men feared for the lives of his wife and seven-year-old child, but had no means to check on them.

The unnamed claimants are asking the High Court to make declarations of “serious illegality,” award damages and require the Home Office to alert everyone affected by the unlawful policy.

Their lawyers estimate that hundreds or possibly thousands of mobile phones have been unlawfully seized since 2018.

The Home Office initially denied the seizure policy existed, and then later apologized for failing a “duty of candor” by withholding the information.

Alan Payne QC, representing the Home Office, told the High Court: “The home secretary is accepting that the seizure policies were unlawful, were not in accordance with the law for the purpose of the European Convention on Human Rights and did not provide a lawful basis for the processing of data.”

Payne also admitted that a separate policy to keep asylum seekers’ phones for a minimum of three months was a “disproportionate interference” with human rights.

Lawyers for the claimants argued that the concessions were “manifestly incomplete and inadequate to reflect the extent of the illegality,” but Home Secretary Priti Patel’s team argued that the remaining grounds of legal challenge were “academic” and should be dismissed.

Home Office lawyers said the policy’s “precise origins are not known” and that it “appears to have developed organically.”

The confusion, they argued, derives from the misunderstanding that all people arriving in small boats from the Channel had committed a crime — this is not the case.

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the home secretary, said there was a “misunderstanding permeating that an illegal entry offense was always committed by passengers” on small boats at the time.

In December, a court ruled that crossing the Channel with the aim of being intercepted and claiming asylum did not amount to illegal entry, and that a “legal heresy” had developed among authorities and caused a series of wrongful prosecutions.


Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit
Updated 27 January 2022

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit
  • Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan participated
  • Modi says five Central Asian republics key to India’s vision of ‘integrated and stable extended neighborhood’

NEW DELHI`: India held its first summit with five Central Asian states on Thursday to address joint concerns over Afghanistan, and to develop regional security cooperation.

Held virtually, Thursday’s summit, hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi,was also attended by the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

“Our aim and concerns for regional security are the same,” Modi said in his opening remarks. “We are all worried about the happenings in Afghanistan. In this context our cooperation for regional security and peace are all the more important.”

Like India, three of the Central Asian republics — Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan — also border Afghanistan.

Modi, the first Indian leader to visit all five Central Asian countries, said they are key to New Delhi’s vision of “an integrated and stable” extended neighborhood.

“We have to prepare an ambitious roadmap for our cooperation, through which, in the next three years, regional connectivity cooperation will be able to adopt an integrated approach,” he said.

As other global powers look to cement their grip on the region following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Indian government has been largely sidelined, while other players such as Pakistan and China have been increasingly involved in Afghan politics on both domestic and international fronts.

Foreign policy experts see the summit as “significant” in view of the situation in Kabul.

“The Central Asian countries’ importance has increased very significantly as a result of what has happened in Afghanistan,” India’s former ambassador to Kazakhstan, Ashok Sajjanhar, told Arab News.

“After the departure of the NATO and American troops, it’s the regional countries’ responsibility to maintain peace and security in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that India and the Central Asian republics are “on the same page and want an inclusive government in Afghanistan, respect for rights of minorities, and women and children.”

Anil Trigunayat, former Indian ambassador to Russia, said the summit provides “excellent reconnect for the sharing of ideas and concerns and a future roadmap with our extended neighborhood,” adding that “the developments in Afghanistan are mutual interests for New Delhi and the Central Asian republics.”

Thursday’s summit follows a lower-level security meeting on Afghanistan that India hosted in November, where, besides officials from the five post-Soviet republics, representatives from Russia and Iran were also present.