Channel tragedy spotlights Britain’s Rwanda migrant law

London — French authorities say a 7-year-old girl was among five migrants who drowned in the English Channel on Tuesday just hours after British lawmakers voted through legislation aimed at deterring asylum-seekers from making the crossing.

Local officials said the inflatable dinghy carrying some 112 people hit a sandbank after leaving a beach near the village of Wimereux.

“A few hundred meters from the shore, the engine stopped, and several people fell into the water,” said Jacques Billant, prefect of the French Pas-de-Calais region.

“Despite this complex and delicate situation, 57 people who were still in the inflatable boat remained on board. Not willing to be rescued, they managed to restart the engine and decided to continue their sea route towards Britain,” Billant told reporters.

Such is the determination of the migrants to reach British shores. Over 6,300 people have made the journey across the English Channel in small boats so far this year.

The tragedy happened early Tuesday morning, a few hours after British lawmakers passed legislation that the government hopes will allow it to deport asylum-seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel to Rwanda for processing.

The migrants would be processed in the African state and have no right to return to Britain, even those granted refugee status.

The legislation effectively orders the courts to ignore existing British laws or international treaties that could block the deportations. Britain’s Supreme Court ruled the policy was illegal in November 2023, as there was a risk that refugees could be sent from Rwanda back to their countries of origin. It is unclear if further legal challenges could delay the flights.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the prospect of being sent thousands of kilometers away to Rwanda will deter migrants from making the journey to Britain.

“The first flight will leave in 10 to 12 weeks. Now, of course, that is later than we wanted. But we have always been clear that processing will take time,” Sunak said Monday evening after the legislation passed.

The government argues the policy is moral, as it aims to end the dangerous journeys operated by people smugglers. But both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have called for Britain to rethink the legislation.

“By shifting the responsibility for refugees, reducing the U.K. courts’ ability to scrutinize removal decisions, restricting access to legal remedies in the U.K. and limiting the scope of domestic and international human rights protections for a specific group of people, this new legislation seriously hinders the rule of law in the U.K., and it sets a perilous precedent globally,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at a news briefing Tuesday in Geneva.

Under the deal, Britain pays Rwanda at least $458 million over five years, with extra payments on top worth tens of thousands of dollars for each migrant sent to the country. The opposition Labour Party has called it an “expensive gimmick” that won’t work.

The passing of the legislation after years of wrangling and court battles is being seen as a political victory for Sunak. Whether the policy deters migrants from making the deadly journeys across the English Channel remains to be seen.

Migrant support groups dispute Sunak’s claims that the policy will stop the boats.

“We will not see the boats stop because of this [Rwanda policy]. We will see more deaths, we will see more dangerous risks being taken,” Kay Marsh of the migrant charity Samphire told Reuters.

your ad here

leave a reply: