UK charities call for safe routes for asylum seekers


Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the latest “preventable deaths” underlined the need for the Home Office to act…reports Asian Lite News

The government’s controversial asylum policy faced renewed criticism when at least six people died after a small boat crossing the Channel capsized and sank.

Another two people are still believed to be missing after the sinking, prompting fresh calls for the government to urgently introduce safe routes for asylum seekers to prevent further tragedies.

As the search for survivors continued, anger quickly switched to the Home Office’s reluctance to introduce measures that would deter migrants from risking their lives crossing the world’s busiest shipping lane.

The tragedy also created a dreadful ending for Rishi Sunak’s “small boats week”, which was meant to reinvigorate his stuttering strategy to tackle Channel crossings, but has been repeatedly marred by blunders and humiliation, including the forced evacuation of the Bibby Stockholm barge and record small boat arrivals.

In the hours that followed, British and French coastguards rescued about 65 people from the vessel. France’s Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea said it believed two were possibly still missing at sea. Of those rescued, six were recovered in serious condition, one of whom was flown by helicopter to a Calais hospital and later declared dead. The remaining five were taken on to a boat, but subsequently died.

Reports from the French lifeboats arriving at the scene described numerous people in the sea, many screaming for help.

The Dover lifeboat quickly joined the rescue operation, with 10 survivors later seen being brought off the vessel as it returned to Kent, some on stretchers, though the extent of injuries and exact numbers remained unclear.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the latest “preventable deaths” underlined the need for the Home Office to act.

“These tragic incidents can and must be prevented. We know that people risk their lives to cross the Channel as a direct consequence of safe routes being so limited and ineffective.

“But instead of putting in place these routes and treating those seeking refuge with compassion and fairness, the government has introduced draconian and unworkable new laws that slams our door in the face of vulnerable men, women and children.”

Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais, said the “terrible loss of life demonstrates yet again the need for a system of safe passage to the UK for refugees”.

Later, the charity Freedom from Torture released a statement accusing ministers of “hostile” attitudes towards refugees.

The current Home Office position pledges to bring in new routes, yet it is unclear when and in what form it would do so.

“We are committed to providing routes, including exploring new routes, to safety for vulnerable people across the globe, but we must first grip the rise in illegal migration and stop the boats,” says the Home Office website.

Following Saturday’s tragedy, a statement from the Home Office focused on tackling people smugglers rather than reviewing its current approach. “This incident is sadly another reminder of the extreme dangers of crossing the Channel in small boats and how vital it is that we break the people smugglers’ business model and stop the boats,” it said.

Home secretary Suella Braverman chaired a meeting with Border Force officials on Saturday morning, and described the incident as a “tragic loss of life”.

In France, an investigation has been opened by the Boulogne prosecutor’s office.

French National Assembly member for Calais, Pierre-Henri Dumont, said authorities were interviewing the migrants who were able to speak and not too unwell, to establish what happened and where they had come from.

On Saturday night, rescuers were still scouring the water for survivors and bodies. A French Navy aircraft and a helicopter had been deployed to help the search.

On Thursday, 755 people crossed the English Channel in small boats, the highest daily number so far this year, taking the total since 2018 past 100,000.

Rescue crews said it was the seventh time last week that they had had to pull people from the water.

People boarding the Bibby Stockholm barge last week before they were later evacuated due to the discovery of Legionella bacteria.

Although the incident happened in French territory, it is normal for British and French rescue teams to work together to save as many people as possible.

The sinking came a day after fresh Home Office humiliation when asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge were evacuated following the discovery of legionella bacteria in the water supply.

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