Following a meeting last month with French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, Home Secretary Priti Patel is keen to establish the current government's approach to illegal migrant crossings across the Channel. The Home Office plans to dedicate more money to supporting French police in monitoring the border to deter people from making the crossing in the first place.
Patel's statement following the meeting was that the UK would 'not let the ruthless gangs of criminal people smugglers continue to put lives in danger'. However, the opinion of those who support refugees and asylum seekers is that focusing on policing and criminalisation is not going to ensure safety for those in need.
Though the government is quick to take a hardline stance on the illegal people smuggling which is costing lives in the channel, no attention is being paid to secure and legal support for asylum seekers and refugees to be processed in France and the UK. When the Home Office is making statements about protecting vulnerable migrants, it's important to remember how legal entry routes have been treated in the past.
The government's approach to the Dublin regulation, past issues with the Dubs scheme and intimidation by French police in the north are all contributing to an increasingly difficult situation which is failing to prioritise the safety of migrant lives.
The Dublin Regulation identifies which EU member state is responsible for processing asylum applications but is also responsible for family reunification applications. Though no-deal Brexit is now unlikely, there is still the possibility that the UK will leave the EU without a deal. Should this happen, the government intends to end their involvement in the Dublin regulation and have previously advised that the family reunification route will close.
Also, the UK is one of the only EU member states which doesn't allow refugee children to sponsor their parents to join them in the EU. This is an essential legal route for refugees that helps extract applicants directly from their country of origin rather than making the journey to the French border. Further restrictions would suggest that the government isn't interested in the root of this issue.
To make life more dangerous for those attempting to cross over from France while at the same time reducing the legal routes for entry is putting even more refugees and asylum seekers at risk.
After being scrapped in 2017, the Dubs scheme to transfer unaccompanied minors from other EU countries was reopened. This followed after a legal battle in which the government was found to have acted unlawfully in the handling of Dubs applications. By not providing written decisions and legitimate reasons for refusal, children who qualified for the protection were prevented from making appeals.
Earlier this year, it was also revealed that the government claimed they had filled the sub-quota of unaccompanied children from France that could be processed on the scheme, preventing children from accessing safe legal protection. Campaigners such as Help Refugees and Safe Passage believe that this increases children's risk of sexual exploitation and being trafficked.
Though the Home Office is taking aim at the people smugglers running these illegal operations, they must also consider the legal rights of asylum seekers and refugees and ensure the UK respects these rights.
Following the destruction of the Calais Jungle in 2016, the French government is dedicated to preventing a permanent settlement from appearing again, regularly forcefully disrupting camps. Earlier this month, three refugee camps were disrupted in three days when police armed with tear gas guns entered the camps early in the morning.
The police were also seen throwing belongings of refugees, including tents into skips, meaning that those who weren't able to move on with their tents now have no shelter. This has already been criticised by the UN for violating the human rights of those living in the camps.
According to Care4Calais, the latest closures are in "direct correlation" with an increase in attempts to cross the channel, where more than 80 people were intercepted in a single day on Tuesday 10th September. Not treating these issues as interrelated and focusing solely on punishment for those attempting to get to the UK will not protect lives.
In this case, the words of both the UK and France do not reflect their actions. While the dangers posed by people smugglers should be tackled in order to protect vulnerable migrants on both sides, this should be supported by reviewing the legal routes of entry and ensuring that, above all else, the lives of migrants are a priority.
This article was written by Damon Culbert, Content Writer from Axis Solicitors, immigration & human rights law firm in Manchester.