The UK and France have reached a new agreement aimed at curbing migration across the Channel, including an increase in police patrols at French shores and investments in surveillance technologies. A deportation flight to Jamaica took off on 2 December despite links to Windrush scandal and protests.

Priti Patel and her French counterpart Gérald Darmanin have signed a new agreement aimed at preventing people from crossing the Channel in small boats. Based on the agreement that came into force on 1 December, the number of French police patrolling 150km of French coastline will be doubled and their equipment with surveillance technologies including drones, radar equipment, cameras, and optronic binoculars will be promoted. Announcing the joint agreement, the Home Secretary said it would “make a difference” to the numbers and stressed that “French authorities have stopped over 5,000 migrants from crossing into the United Kingdom, we’ve had hundreds of arrests and that’s because of the joint intelligence and communications that we share between both our authorities.”

NGO representatives expressed their concerns and disappointment over the agreement. Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme Director at Amnesty International UK, Steve Valdez-Symonds, stated: “It is profoundly disappointing that yet again these two governments have ignored the needs and rights of people who ought to be at the heart of their response.” Director of Detention Action, Bella Sankey, said: “No amount of massaging the numbers masks her refusal to take the sensible step of creating a safe and legal route to the UK from northern France, thereby preventing crossings and child deaths”.

In other years the number of people crossing the Channel had dropped during the colder months. However, this year differs and people are trying to reach the UK before the Brexit transition phase ends by 31 December as it remains uncertain how Brexit will affect their situation. On Monday 30 November, 121 people were rescued aboard seven dinghies and brought back to French shores by the Maritime Prefecture of the English Channel and the North Sea. In one case water had started to enter the dinghy. On Sunday, 19 people were rescued and on Saturday 45. The survivors included children and a pregnant woman and some suffered from hypothermia. The Maritime Prefecture of the English Channel and the North Sea warns that weather conditions in the Channel are often difficult with a yearly average of 120 days of wind above or equal to force 7.

About 8,000 people have successfully crossed the Channel in 2020, compared to 1,835 in 2019. A recent report highlights that nearly 300 border-related deaths in and around the Channel have been registered since 1999.

On 2 December, a deportation flight organised by the Home Office took off to Jamaica. While the charter flight was initially planned to deport 50 UK residents with Jamaican heritage, only 13 men were on board when the plane took off. This second charter flight to Jamaica this year amid the second COVID wave sparked public outrage and protests. Last week, more than 80 Black public figures called on airlines who had previously been involved in deportations not to operate the flight. More than 60 MPs and peers signed a letter addressed to the Home Secretary urging to put hold on the removal plans amid the second wave. “If this charter flight goes ahead, children will be forced apart from their parents, and they may not even get a chance to say goodbye,” the letter stated. A petition urging to hold the flight was signed by over 185,000 people. The Home Office’s deportation plans were especially disputed in regards to the Windrush scandal and a number of legal challenges were launched, many of which succeeded, resulting in only 13 men being deported instead of 50. Home Office and Justice Minister, Chris Philip, commented in a tweet “It is disappointing that immigration law firms continued to use last minute tactics to remove a significant number of offenders from this flight.” Karen Doyle, from Movement for Justice, said: “While there are many families desperately relieved this morning, there are also many children who just lost their father before Christmas at a time of pandemic when children’s mental health is already suffering.”

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.