UNICEF/Geai A boy walks through a migrant camp in Calais, northern France. According to estimates, about 900 migrants and asylum seekers are sheltering in the area, many without toilets or washing facilities.
Intercepting boats full of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel, is not the solution to deter them from attempting to reach the United Kingdom, UN agencies have stressed, warning that deployment of large naval vessels to block small, flimsy dinghies could lead to fatal incidents.
Instead, governments in Europe and elsewhere should increase search and rescue efforts, and combat human smuggling and trafficking rings – key drivers of such dangerous journeys, the Office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) urged in a joint news release on Wednesday.
Solutions can be found for those in need of protection through the asylum system, and complementary mechanisms for those in need of other forms of protection such as victims of trafficking and unaccompanied children, they added.
Saving lives, first priority
Pascale Moreau, UNHCR Director for Europe, highlighted that undocumented attempts to cross the English Channel, represent a challenge for all States in the region, and require practical solutions and cooperation.
“Our collective response should be comprehensive and complementary – from saving lives to combating smuggling rings, expanding legal options, and ensuring that all those who are in need of protection can effectively access it”, she said.
Along with this, countries should work together to ensure that people who have grounds for regular entry, including to reunite with their families, can do so quickly and effectively without having to resort to such a dangerous journey.
Protect the most vulnerable
In the same vein, Ola Henrikson, Director of the IOM Regional Office in Brussels, underscored the importance of balanced and proportionate border cooperation, as part of a larger, comprehensive response.
“The immediate concern is the dangers the crossings present particularly to the most vulnerable, including many children”, she said.
In the wake of the UK’s departure from the European Union, viable mechanisms need to continue to ensure that people – especially unaccompanied children – in various EU countries who have family or other important links to the UK can continue to travel or transfer safely, added the UN agencies.
In addition to being exposed to criminal smugglers and traffickers, unaccompanied minors and children often have no protection – even from people traveling with them – leaving them at risk of violence and exploitation.