How can we solve the migrant crisis and save people from risking their lives?

People trying to cross the channel have often fled from war or persecution. Credit: PA

As people continue to risk their lives for a chance of living in safety in the UK, solutions to the migrant crisis are as imperative as ever.

Children and a pregnant woman were among 27 people who died while trying to cross the English Channel in a bid to reach the UK on Wednesday.

More set off on the dangerous trip on Thursday, seemingly undeterred by the tragic events less than 24 hours previously.

French president resident Emmanuel Macron warned “France will not allow the Channel to become a cemetery", while Boris Johnson's spokesman said the UK "needs to step up our work with our French counterparts."

But what are the potential solutions to help prevent people fleeing war and persecution from resorting to desperate measures and drowning in the Channel?

Patrols on beach 

One proposal mooted in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday's tragedy is to increase police presence and patrol the beaches of northern France more regularly. 

Downing Street said they had agreed to “keep all options on the table” in their efforts to break up the human trafficking gangs.  

Immigration compliance minister Tom Pursglove confirmed Mr Johnson had renewed a previous offer to send UK police and Border Force officers to mount joint patrols with the French. 

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought into Dungeness, Kent, by the RNLI following a small boat incident in the Channel. Credit: PA

The aim is to prevent migrant boats from attempting the perilous crossing. 

But such patrols would not deter smuggling gangs, warns Zoe Gardner, policy manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI). 

“What evidence shows is that time and time again smuggling gangs simply shift, they move to another method and they move faster than states can react,” she told ITV News. 

More funding and resources 

If people cannot be prevented from making the dangerous trip, a number of teams are devoted to rescuing anyone coming into trouble at sea. 

But when a surge of crossings happen all at once, Border Force, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Coastguard teams can be overwhelmed and cannot address all the incidents at the same time. 

Border Force only has a limited number of cutters and patrol boats – the vessels it uses to intercept boats and bring people ashore. 

Earlier in November, ITV News witnessed large groups of people heading out to water on inflatable boats.  

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reported from Calais earlier this month, when migrants were attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK from France

It is believed around 50 vessels reached the UK that day. 

On Thursday, more people have been making the perilous journey. 

Sile Reynolds, head of asylum advocacy at Freedom from Torture, said that if Wednesday’s tragedy hasn’t stopped more setting off on Thursday then “it won’t tomorrow or the next day.” 

She told ITV News: “In the immediate-term, we need maritime rescue services, from both countries. 

“They need to collaborate to make sure people in boats are rescued and taken to the nearest port.” 

Alternative routes 

Many argue the most effective solution, advocated by several charities and organisations, is to offer alternative, safer routes for people to seek asylum in the UK. 

By law, applicants must be in the country where they want to seek asylum at the time of applying, but because the UK is an island many to feel they have no choice but to try to navigate the Channel. 

“Politicians are scared to say the only solution is to give people here an alternative travel method,” Ms Gardner said. 

“The problem is there are effectively no safe routes.” 

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Giving people the chance to obtain travel documents could allow asylum seekers to safely travel to the UK and then submit an application, she added.    

It’s a sentiment echoed by Amnesty International, who say: “Opening up safe routes to sanctuary for refugees is one important solution.  

“That means allowing people to reunite with their relatives, and giving refugees visas so they don’t have to spend their life savings and risk drowning to reach safety.” 

Family reunification  

Many making the life-risking trip to the UK are doing so to reunite with family already settled in the country. 

Under previous legislation in the EU, known as the Dublin Regulation, the member state responsible for determining an asylum application would be identified using a hierarchy of criteria – giving greater importance to “family unity.” 

Ms Gardner points out, however, that since Brexit this legislation has not been recreated. 

Children are often among those trying to make it to the UK. Credit: PA

Speed up resettlement schemes 

The global migrant crisis has been exacerbated by the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, with refugees in their thousands seeking safety abroad. 

A popular refrain in the debate over immigration is that people should seek refuge in the “first safe country” they come to – this is incorrect and there is no such requirement under the UN Refugee Convention. 

A special resettlement scheme is planned for Afghan refugees, but the government is yet to put a timescale on it. 

Under the ACRS, the government said it would work with the UN’s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to identify those most at risk and help resettle refugees who have fled Afghanistan “based on their protection and humanitarian need.” 

Charities have called on the government to provide urgent clarification on when the scheme will commence. 

But when asked last week if the scheme may not be running by this time next year, Ms Atkins said: “Well, that is certainly not my intention, certainly not.  

“We want to want this scheme to be up and running… we’ve got to do it in a safe way.” 

She said she would not be drawn on whether it would start before Christmas, or before March.  

Ms Reynolds said resettlement isn’t a solution in itself but “needs to be part of a package.” 

There were 20.7 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world at the end of 2020, but less than one per cent of refugees are resettled each year. 

“We need to ensure there is access to protection, we need to acknowledge that people will continue to show up in the UK without prior authorisation and they need to be given access to apply for asylum,” she added. 

Could pushbacks work? 

So-called “pushbacks” of small boats in the Channel are very difficult and there is heated debate over their legality. 

Charities fear that seeking to turn boats away while on the water could put lives at risk and the Home Office has not confirmed when or if the tactic will be put into practice. 

‘Scrap nationality and borders bill’ 

Last week, nearly 180,000 signed a petition, led by a group of charities, calling for the Nationality and Borders Bill to be dropped. 

The bill threatens jail time for people knowingly coming into the UK without prior permission. Credit: PA

Dubbed the ‘Anti-Refugee Bill’ by critics, the legislation intends to make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years. 

Charity Asylum Matters describes it as a “draconian measure” that could cause “irreparable harm.”  

The UNHCR, meanwhile, warned in September that the bill would break international law

What about offshore centres for processing? 

Recent calls for offshore centres – where people can be held and processed – have led some to argue this could alleviate the crisis. 

But many charities oppose this idea.  

International charity Doctors Without Borders reported on Australia’s offshore centre in 2018, giving stark details on the conditions and extreme mental health suffering. 

Among the 208 refugees and asylum seekers they treated, 60 per cent had suicidal thoughts and 30 per cent had attempted suicide.