London: The most recent illegal migration pact between the UK and France is “directly linked” to a doubling of the number of Channel drownings in the last year, a report has found.
The increased police presence on French beaches – along with more dinghies being stopped from reaching the coast – is leading to more dangerous overcrowding and chaotic attempts to board the boats, the paper said.
The lives lost in 2023 – when the deal was signed – were close to the French shore and to police patrols on the beaches, in contrast to earlier Channel drownings such as the mass drowning on 24 November 2021, where at least 27 people lost their lives after their boat got into difficulty in the middle of the Channel.
“We directly link the recent increase in the number of deadly incidents to the agreement between the British and French governments to Stop The Boats,” the report states.
It adds that the increased police presence and their attacks on some of the migrants trying to cross “create panicked and dangerous situations in which dinghies launch before they are fully inflated”. This scenario can increase the risk of drowning in shallow water.
The paper, named the Deadly Consequences of the New Deal to Stop the Boats, condemns what it describes as increased police violence as the most visible consequence of last year’s deal.
The report compares data in the year before the March 2023 deal with last year’s data after the deal was signed.
The data was analysed by the organisation Alarmphone, which operates an emergency helpline for migrants crossing the seas who get into distress, and passes on location and other information to rescue services.
In 2022, six lives were lost at sea in three separate incidents. In 2023, at least 13 lives were lost in six separate incidents.
The most recent incident was on 14 January this year where five people lost their lives near the beach of Wimereux, north of Boulogne-sur-Mer, as more than 70 people tried to board a dinghy.
The BBC reported that two of those who drowned were Obada Abd Rabbo, 14, and his older brother, Ayser, 24, who lost their lives a few metres from the French coast when people rushed into the sea to try to board the dinghy.
Crossings reduced by a third in 2023 compared with 2022. But there are indications more migrants are turning to lorries and other methods of transport to reach the UK as the clampdown on sea crossings increases.
Incidents last year in which people lost their lives close to the French shore include:
22 November 2023: three people drowned close to Équihen-Plage as the dinghy collapsed close to the shore. Fifty-seven survivors returned to the beach.
The report concludes that the UK/French deal has further destabilised an already dangerous situation while police are still unable to prevent most crossings on a busy day. It identifies “victim blaming” of those trying to cross by politicians.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Fatal incidents in the Channel are the result of dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys in unseaworthy craft, facilitated by criminals in the pursuit of profit.
“Asylum seekers should seek protection in the first country where it is reasonable for them to do so and we continue to take robust action to crackdown on criminal gangs, deter migrants from making dangerous crossings and intercept vessels.” The French interior ministry was approached for comment