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The Humanitarian Concerns Behind the Dispendious UK-France New Migration Agreement

Lucrezia Santa Maria, MSc International Politics

On the 11th of November 2022, the UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman and France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin agreed to update the deal on Channel migration, signed in 2021, which aimed to prevent illegal migration and human smuggling. According to the agreement, the UK will add £8m more to the £55m that is already annually paid to France to enhance 40% of France’s Northern border control and surveillance capacities. The deal results from the consequence of a considerable surge in migrants’ arrivals on small boats in 2022. According to the British Government, 40,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year, the highest number since 2018, with 93% of them being asylum seekers. 

The UK’s and France’s government efforts to find an agreement and prevent illegal migration have a long and troubled history, that can be dated back to 2015 when the securitisation of borders became imperative across Europe. Financing in exchange for more military control and surveillance systems has since been the consistent strategy adopted by the two countries to prevent border crossing. The recent agreement, according to The Independent, the eighth update in the past seven years, will bring to £232m the total amount paid by the UK government to France. The considerable expense sustained by the English government, though, is not considered to be a definitive measure. Mr Sunak, the UK’s new Prime Minister, showed prudence when forecasting the effects of the agreement on illegal immigration, as, in his words, ‘it isn’t a single thing that will magically solve this,’ and ‘there’s lots more that we need to do.’ 

Border Patrol agents bring migrants into Dover harbour on a boat, after they tried to cross the channel, in September 2020 (Credit: REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo).

The large amount of money paid by the UK through citizens’ taxes raises several concerns on whether the newly adopted strategy focuses more on increasing militarisation and policing and is effective in the management of migration flows. Many critics, coming from human rights organisations and refugee groups, consider the agreement fuel for the issues it aims to solve. Pierre Roques, the coordinator of the Auberge des Migrants association, observed that more policing will not prevent migrants from crossing; Rather it will ‘make the [illegal] networks of crossing indispensable’. He explains, ‘the more police officers you put on the beaches, the more you encourage the illegal networks.’ This is also proved by figures that show the increase in the number of migrants crossing the Channel in the last years, despite the enforcement of containment strategies (from less than 5,000 people crossing in 2019 to nearly 30,000 in 2021, according to the BBC). 

‘Containment, therefore, far from preventing crossings, results in making migrants’ lives more vulnerable, the journey more dangerous, and global ecosystems of criminality all the more lucrative.’

Furthermore, Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, highlighted how enforcement measures ignore the urgency to create safe and legal migration routes and the need to work with the EU and other countries to share the responsibility to reduce backlogs in the asylum system. The majority of these migrants who are crossing the Channel are seeking asylum, which means that they are escaping situations in which their lives were at risk; Increasing police surveillance will not reduce the demand for the channel crossing. Therefore containment, far from preventing crossings, results in making migrants’ lives more vulnerable, the journey more dangerous, and global ecosystems of criminality all the more lucrative. 

Though the recent agreement was presented as a humanitarian measure that aimed to protect and improve migrants’ human rights, it also discourages the dangerous journey through the Channel and helps to dismantle the smuggling networks operating in France’s northern coasts. The same humanitarian discourse was used when presenting the heavily debated ‘Rwanda scheme’, which was designed to send migrants that entered the UK illegally to Rwanda, where their refugee status would eventually be considered. Despite the enormous cost sustained by Britain to enhance the plan and make positive changes, the political situation in Rwanda leaves many sceptical about the UK Government’s true attitude towards migrants. This tension between the benevolent intent expressed by public authorities and the reality of the Rwandan political situation is expressive of how the aims of containment strategies rely more on the will to exclude, rather than to save migrants.

The agreement signed by France and the UK is to be contextualised in the increasing efforts done by European countries to externalise migration, which means imposing its management on third-world countries and increasing border surveillance as a means to control and exclude any migrants entering the state’s borders. Coherently, the African Union judged the efforts to manage migration from Africa as ‘xenophobic’, highlighting Europe’s political interests and their ignorance towards the public’s opinion. The UK government’s continuous efforts to manage the migration situation show a lack of foresight and attention to the complexity of migration, which will ultimately lead to both enormous economic and humanitarian costs. 

Featured Photo Caption: UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman and France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin signing the deal on the 14th of November 2022 (Credit: Home Office).

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