A second migrant has died while crossing the English Channel in as many months after Border Force officials were warned they may be breaking the law unless those crossing ‘consent’ to having their boats turned around.
Sussex Police said the body of a man was recovered by Coastguard officials in the mid-English channel on Saturday afternoon and brought to Eastbourne as officers work to ID the victim.
It follows the death of a 27-year-old man aboard a boat carrying 40 people who was airlifted to hospital after a huge air and sea rescue operation in the Channel in August.
Record-breaking numbers of migrants have so far made it across the Channel this year – with numbers already nearing double those recorded in the whole of 2020.
A group of suspected migrants arrive at Dover, Kent aboard a Border Force patrol boat
Record-breaking numbers of migrants have so far made it across the Channel this year – with numbers already nearing double those recorded in the whole of 2020. Above: Masked suspected migrants wave at Dover, Kent
A group of suspected migrants are led off a Border Force patrol boat following a ‘small vessel incident’ in the Channel on Sunday, September 12
Reacting to this, Home Secretary Priti Patel has threatened to ‘push back’ migrant boats from the English coast – insisting Britons expect action amid mounting fury at France’s lacklustre efforts to curb the problem despite being handed millions by UK taxpayers to do so.
Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, officers would get the power to intervene at sea to tackle people-smugglers and turn migrant boats away from the UK and back into foreign waters.
But legal expert and unions have weighed in to warn ministers their plans may be illegal and that Border Force staff could refuse to comply if migrants resist efforts to be turned around.
Home Secretary Priti Patel (above) has been warned by lawyers and unions her touted ‘turn back’ policy for migrant boats could be illegal
Legal expert and unions have weighed in to warn ministers their plans may be illegal and that Border Force staff could refuse to comply if migrants resist efforts to be turned around. Above: Migrants arriving at Dover docks
The body of a man has been recovered by the coastguard in the English Channel, Sussex Police have said. Pictured: A Border Force official helps a migrant remove his life jacket
Ms Patel also came under fire from experts who said her latest plan is ‘not going to happen’ because overloaded dinghies might sink and France would need to cooperate.
Lucy Moreton, professional officer at the Immigration Services Union, said she would be surprised if the ‘pushback’ tactic is used ‘even once’ because the boats are ‘vulnerable’.
David Hammond, former Royal Navy barrister and chief executive of charity Human Rights At Sea, told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘As soon as one or more of those migrants panic or think it will be quicker to get on board the vessel by getting into the water, then push back immediately stops and you have the requirement to save life at sea under at least three international conventions.
‘It changes in a split second, then Border Force will have to make a call then and there to stop what they are doing and immediately go into a search and rescue role.’
And Tory MP Tim Loughton, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said it was ‘not going to happen’ as the vessels would capsize and migrants might drown.
A spokesperson for Sussex Police confirmed: ‘On Saturday afternoon, September 11, the body of a man was recovered by HM Coastguard in mid-English Channel, following information from a passing vessel, and was brought to Eastbourne.
‘Enquiries are under way and no further information is available at this time.’
On August 12, a 27-year-old Eritrean national drowned while trying to cross the Channel aboard a raft that sank near Dunkirk despite a full-scale rescue operation by French and Belgian air and sea units.
Clamours for further action from Britain come amid reports that close to 1,000 migrants crossed the Channel on a single day on Monday September 6.
The deadly crossing from France – made by more than 14,000 people including chidlren so far this year – has claimed many lives in the past.
The most high-profile of them were Rasoul Iran-Nejad and his wife Shiva Mohammad Panahi, who died along with their three children when their boat capsized on October 27, 2020.
Their 15-month-old son Artin was reported missing following the tragedy and it was not until June this year that police confirmed a body found on the Norwegian coast was that of the young boy.
‘Pushback’ tactic could risk lives and be illegal, warn campaigners
Turning back boats in the Channel could risk the lives of migrants, campaigners warned as the legality of the tactic was called into question.
The British Red Cross warned that the policy would ‘detract’ from finding solutions that would give people alternatives to making the dangerous crossing through busy shipping lanes.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: ‘The Government’s pushback plan is senseless, dangerous and almost certainly unlawful.
‘Intercepting vessels in the Channel is incredibly high risk and to push people back will endanger their lives, which is totally at odds with the legal duty of rescue at sea.
‘People have every right to seek asylum in the UK, and they only make dangerous journeys and rely on smugglers because there are no safe alternatives made available to them.’
Lord West, who was First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff from 2002 to 2006 and later a security minister under Labour, said the whole policy is ‘highly problematic’.
Meanwhile, legal figures questioned whether turning back boats would be lawful, amid suggestions that Government officials have been ordered to rewrite maritime laws so the tactic can be used.
James M Turner QC, a barrister and arbitrator specialising in cross-border commercial and shipping disputes, said on Twitter that turnbacks are ‘highly unlikely to be lawful (even if it were practicable and safe)’,
In an earlier post, having discussed the various laws at play when considering maritime incidents and asylum seekers at sea, he said: ‘Turning back migrant boats in the middle of the Channel would not therefore be lawful under international law. It would also potentially endanger lives.’
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner tweeted: ‘The Home Office has apparently received legal advice that it would be lawful to ‘push back’ some refugee boats. Would be very interested to see that advice (which I bet is so heavily hedged it’s practically growing leaves).’
Home Office figures released this weekend show 1,801 people made it across the Channel in small boats this week.
So far this year, around 14,500 have made the crossing – almost twice the 8,410 recorded in the whole of 2020.
Reacting to Ms Patel’s controversial ‘turn back’ policy, the Immigration Services Union warned staff may refuse to comply with her tactics.
Lucy Moreton, Immigration Services Union professional officer, said: ‘It is safe and it is legal as long as the individuals in the boat don’t threaten to jump in the water.
‘So as long as they effectively agree to be turned around, then it is absolutely fine.
‘But if they don’t agree – if they start to resist, if they show any aggression or any reluctance that may put them in danger – if we do not break off that would be illegal.’
Speaking to Sky News, Ms Moreton added: ‘Our captains will not put people’s lives at risk. They will hold their ground and back away rather than endanger somebody.’
Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, officers would get the power to intervene at sea to tackle people-smugglers and turn migrant boats away from the UK.
However, they would need the agreement of other states, such as France, to drive them back into foreign waters.
The legislation would give immigration or enforcement officers specific ‘maritime powers’ over ships and other boats or vessels in ‘United Kingdom waters, foreign waters or international waters’ to ‘prevent, detect, investigate or prosecute offences’, the document said.
They could be given the power to ‘stop, board, divert and detain’, including requiring the ship to ‘leave United Kingdom waters’.
But the Bill makes clear this could take place ‘only if the state, or the relevant territory’ is willing to receive the ship.
It also suggests written notice must be given to the ‘master of any ship detained’, ie the captain or person navigating the vessel – which has prompted questions on how this could work in practice.
Officers will be allowed to use ‘reasonable force, if necessary’ and take ‘equipment or materials’ – but it is not yet clear what this could entail.
The stricter rules are part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s pledge to fix the UK’s ‘broken asylum system’ and have been hailed by the Government as ‘fundamental reforms’ under a ‘landmark’ Bill as part of its ‘fair but firm’ plan for immigration first published in March.
This comes as Priti Patel is set to spend £200million on a new fleet of border patrol boats, as she steps up attempts to stop migrants crossing the Channel.
The Home Secretary has ordered a major replacement of Border Force’s five ageing cutters, official documents show.
The vessels could be used to block dinghies from entering UK waters – the controversial ‘push-back’ tactic announced this week.
The proposal, from the latest version of the Home Office’s procurement schedule, reveals that the process to upgrade the cutters will start in April.
The huge sum to upgrade the fleet comes on top of the £54million due to be handed to France for coastal patrols and surveillance – which could now be withheld following a diplomatic spat between Whitehall and Paris.