FOLKESTON, UK – Using binoculars and powerful telescopes, three volunteers from a humanitarian surveillance team stand on the coast of Kent watching the English Channel. On this clear morning, the towering bell tower of the French town of Calais can be seen, but so can the striking silhouette of a small rubber stick.
The Channel Rescue Volunteer Group was formed last year to service ships full of asylum seekers trying to cross this busy waterway to provide humanitarian aid, such as water blankets and bed sheets. – I got into trouble when they landed or saw them on the beach.
But they are also monitoring the UK’s border agency for possible abuses as the government takes a tougher stance on migration. For much of the year, the number of migrants crossing the English Channel by boat increases, a political storm rages in London and Home Secretary Priti Patel uses tough tactics to force ships back to France. Allowed.
The proposal, which has not yet entered into force, has sparked a national debate over immigration and sparked a new diplomatic row between Britain and France over issues relating to fishing rights and post-Brexit global strategic interests. they are tensed.
Human rights groups and immigration experts say the government’s approach is making matters worse and could harm migrants, many of whom are fleeing poverty and violence. Here in Kent, the place of acceptance and the first point of defense for centuries that required those fleeing adversity when conflict with Europe broke out, there was a sense that confrontation might emerge.
Right-wing activists have come ashore to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment. Mrs. Patel introduced the government’s strict policy by visiting the Seema Bal ship. Last week, Channel Rescue documented that a border troop ship carried out a disgusting maneuver.
“This hostile environment really hurts,” said Stephen, one of the volunteers, who said that only his first name should be used following threats from far-right activists.
The Interior Ministry declined to comment on the exercise because it was “operational sensitive”.
However, experts say leadership can be more than just political theater. Rejection can be life-threatening, experts say, and a ship can only be returned to France if a French ship agrees to join it – growing hostilities are unlikely.
France and Britain have long cooperated with the Chanel police. In July, Britain agreed to give France more money for patrols. But under pressure, Patel has since threatened to withdraw funds from France if they do not cooperate along strict British lines.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmine said he “will not resort to practices that violate the law of the sea”, adding: “Friendship between our two countries is better than attitude.”
There was also resistance from the guild that Seema Bal represented. Union worker Lucy Moreton said the withdrawal would cause problems for officials and encourage people to jump off the ship.
“The Interior Minister announced it without warning. “This is likely to increase tensions with migrants and put migrants and border guards at risk.”
Even if a ship is never returned, the idea sparked a national debate about how Britain should welcome migrants. British tabloids and some far-right television networks have painted disturbing and sometimes misleading stories about arriving migrants.
Former Brexit participant Nigel Farage lashed out at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a nearly 200-year-old charity whose volunteer “taxi service” saves lives at sea.
So far this year, some 16,300 people have traveled by small boat from continental Europe to the UK, compared with around 8,500 in 2020, the government confirmed. However, experts say available data shows no evidence of an increase in the number of unauthorized travelers, compared to evictions through other means of entry, such as truck smuggling.
Peter William Walsh, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said there had been an increase in the number of people traveling by boat both this year and in previous years, nearly all of whom had applied for asylum on arrival, but the latest official figure was that general asylum was declining. . Use.
Angry immigration policies have spread to towns and villages along the Kent coast. Right-wing activists flocked to shore to record videos of migrant boat landings, often harassing them.
For some in the area, the Napier Barracks, a rebuilt military facility on the outskirts of Folkestone, has become the focal point. About 300 men are being held in barracks pending a decision on their asylum applications. A heated debate about migration is ongoing on the Facebook page for Folkestone residents. A local resident posted a photo last week showing a man wearing a soccer net near the barracks.
Some speculated it was a theft, while others immediately defended the men and – rightly – noted that the trap was theirs.
Football is one of the few options for a man like Temsjen Gosse while waiting to be punished. Gosai, 32, a journalist who fled persecution in Ethiopia, had been in Britain for three months following the boat crossing.
“To be honest I’m very grateful because I know there are people who are fighting in this country and who support us in everything,” he said of the welcome he received.
Across town, at the Lord Morris Pub in Folkestone, guests had mixed views as they talked about last week’s pint.
“You’re accused of being racist, but this isn’t about racism, it’s about, well, we’re full,” said Berrick Collingham, 68, a longtime resident of Folkestone who realized it was time to stop boat.
Richard Smith, 66, a former merchant marine, and Jacqueline Castello, 65, believe more needs to be done to find safe passage for asylum seekers in Britain because shipping routes are busy and sometimes lethal for small vessels. A family of five died when the boat sank. The youngest child’s body was washed on a Norwegian beach this summer.
“You’re looking for redemption, aren’t you?” said Mr. Smith. “You can’t make him leave. You have to introduce yourself in that situation – how about we go the other way? ”
Bridget Chapman of the Kent Refugee Action Network, a charity that supports asylum seekers in the area, said most residents support humanitarian efforts, although some mistakenly blame asylum seekers for a lack of public services. ordained. Some of Folkestone’s neighborhoods are among the poorest in the country. But he said the anger was inappropriate.
“I think the central government let them down,” he said. “But it’s something that makes you angry.”
At the local museum in Folkestone, Ms. Chapman points to a large screen depicting thousands of Belgian refugees who fled the English Channel during World War I and were greeted warmly at the port. Although the region has become a defensive frontier and safe haven for those who fled conflict during wars in the past, the thinking remains a complex identity.
“This story must be welcomed and defended,” said Ms. Chapman. “Both are installed – it just depends on which button is pressed.”