Following the reporting in the Telegraph of the French Navy failing to provide assistance to a refugee boat in distress in the English Channel, Dan Sohege shares his view about the way France and the UK treat asylum seekers like a nasty game of pass the parcel.

First published in September 2020.

I am not defending French actions if they failed to render assistance to a vessel in distress, but there are some issues raised by this piece, in particular the use of language and framing, which really need addressing.

The Telegraph

First off, “shepherding”, “ushered”, etc. Depending on the statistics, France has increased interceptions between five and ten times on last year. Are they potentially failing to “actively encourage” people to seek asylum in France? Probably so. You know, just like the UK is.

It comes across as a tadge hypocritical to be complaining that a country with 120,000+ asylum seekers is not encouraging more to apply... by a country with 36,000+, which is itself actively telling asylum seekers not to apply.

It could just be me...

There is nothing illegal about crossing the channel, however, failing to render assistance to a vessel in distress is illegal under the law of the sea. It appears from this that the French sent some form of assistance. Was it enough? It depends on the actual situation.

I am rather sceptical of the way in which this has been reported though. The faux humanitarian concerns, mixed with a consistent use of the phrase “illegal” for people who aren’t, does make me question exactly how reliable a Telegraph article with Nigel Farage as a witness is.

The channel is a dangerous route. It is also a route which many are forced to take because of lack of other options.

I am not defending French actions if they left a vessel in distress, although I do wonder at the ‘abandoned them as soon as they reached the British waters’ line.

The Telegraph

What exactly is the author of this piece suggesting? That the French – who, let’s be honest, are most likely quite happy to see asylum seekers seeking it in the UK rather than there – should cross into British waters so that we don’t have to provide assistance?

Here is the thing, France has repeatedly demonstrated that it is willing to violate refugees rights and obviously has no pressing wish to take any more. They have increased interceptions, much as this is ignored, but realistically they aren’t going to stop every vessel.

If, as it is made out in the piece, your concern really is that by not intercepting migrant dinghies they are putting lives at risk, then there is only one answer. The UK needs to open safe routes and accept more asylum seekers so they aren’t forced to make the crossing.

Countries, UK, France and many others, treat asylum seekers like a particularly nasty game of pass the parcel. Blaming France, fairly, for leaving a vessel in distress when you have the likes of Nigel Farage regularly saying vessels should be turned back anyway, is just hypocrisy.

The EU and the UK need to stop treating asylum seekers as if they are someone else’s problem. You can’t complain that another country isn’t doing enough to stop asylum seekers reaching your shores when you take far fewer than them, and actively discourage them.

What we need now more than anything is a stop on the sensationalist anti-asylum seeker rhetoric being flung around in the press and take a look at the realities of the situation. We need a focus on safe routes and providing support, because people won’t stop seeking safety.🔷

Dan Sohege, Human rights advocate, international refugee law specialist, immigration economist, charity fundraising professional and Director of Stand For All.


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🗳️ Nigel Farage

[This piece was originally published in The Conversation and re-published in PMP Magazine on 20 September 2020, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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