LONDON – Hundreds of people have crossed the English Channel in small boats in the last 24 hours, British officials said Monday, after more than a week in which none of the hazardous journeys were reported.
The Ministry of Defense said 254 people arrived on the English coast in seven boats from northern France on Sunday, and more people were brought ashore by British lifeboats on Monday.
The crossings had all but halted since April 20, a few days after Britain announced a plan to send some asylum-seekers to Rwanda. But officials said rough weather, rather than the new policy, was the likely reason for the lull.
Thousands of people a year try to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in dinghies and other fragile craft in hope of a new life in the U.K. More than 28,000 migrants entered Britain across the Channel last year, up from 8,500 in 2020. Dozens have died, including 27 people in November when a packed boat capsized.
In a dramatic — and, critics say, illegal — move, Britain’s Conservative government announced last month that it had struck a deal with Rwanda to send some asylum seekers who arrive as stowaways in trucks or on boats to the East African country. The agreement says the migrants' asylum applications will be processed in Rwanda and, if successful, they will stay there rather than coming to Britain.
The British government says the plan will discourage people from making the dangerous journeys and will put people-smuggling gangs out of business. But it has been condemned by refugee organizations and human-rights groups, and faces legal challenges.
The government has also passed a new law that makes it an offence to knowingly arrive in the U.K. without authorization, a move critics say amounts to criminalizing refugees.
The charity Care4Calais, which works with migrants in northern France, said many asylum seekers were determined to make the journey despite the new rules.
“Refugees have escaped from the worst horrors in this world,” the group said on Twitter. “When you’re risking your life, what else do you have to lose? When someone explains ‘even death wouldn’t stop me’ trying to get to the UK, it’s clear that even the threat of Rwanda won’t change anything.”
Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, a destination favored by many for reasons of language or family ties, or because of Britain’s perceived open economy. The British and French governments have worked for years to stop the journeys, without much success, and have bickered over who is responsible for the failure.
Lawmaker Pierre-Henri Dumont, the French National Assembly member for Calais, said the Rwanda plan would likely have little effect.
“When you leave your country because of war, because of starvation … at least if you have a chance, you will try,” he told the BBC.
“We are going to the summer so we will have less waves and less danger for the smugglers. So we will have more and more people going to cross.”
Relations between Britain and France have grown increasingly testy since the U.K, left the European Union in 2020. Enver Solomon, chief executive of Britain’s Refugee Council, urged the British government to have a “grown-up conversation with France and the EU about sharing responsibility.”
“We need a fair and humane asylum system, with means well thought-out, long-term solutions that address why people are forced from their homes, and provides them with safe routes to the U.K,” he said. ___
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