France to blame for refugees risking Channel crossings, say NGOs

·3-min read

Organisations supporting refugees in northern France have blamed the French government for the high number of people risking their lives to cross the Channel in small boats.

So far this year more than 20,000 people have crossed with UK Border Force union officials predicting that the number could reach 60,000 by the end of the year.

Of this year’s figures so far 14,728 have crossed since the British government announced its controversial policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in April.

French NGOs say that while France does have some reception centres for asylum seekers, many end up sleeping on the street. Calais, Dunkirk and Paris are all areas where asylum seekers are camped out in the hope of reaching the UK or getting their asylum claims resolved in France.

Nikolai Posner, the coordinator of Utopia 56, a French NGO that supports many asylum seekers, said: “You in the UK have Rwanda, we in France have the streets. The state is voluntarily creating this environment in the hope that people will not come here any more or will leave by themselves.”

Related: Liz Truss accused of delaying human rights report over criticism of Rwanda

France terre d’asile, one of the largest organisations supporting asylum seekers and in receipt of funding from the French government, tweeted on Wednesday that French government policies were implicitly encouraging some Afghan asylum seekers to try the dangerous route to England.

Hélène Soupios-David, director of advocacy at the group, said: “Reasons that can lead people to risk their life trying to reach the UK on small boats are multiple. However, the absence of alternatives remains the main issue: legal pathways are almost nonexistent for seeking asylum and reuniting with families, and reception places for asylum seekers are lacking in France.

“The increase in crossings shows that restrictive measures such as the Rwanda plan or enhanced border checks do not act as a deterrent: the only solution lies with proposing alternatives in the form of legal pathways, adequate reception conditions and protection for those who need it.”

An Afghan asylum seeker who says he helped British troops as an interpreter, has lived in France since 2019 after fleeing his home because his life was in danger there. But despite him saying he has significant documentary evidence of the risks to him in Afghanistan, his case has not progressed.

“I have tried to claim asylum in France but there is no support from the government side,” he said. “This isn’t just something that has happened to me. It has happened to many asylum seekers.”

He ended up sleeping on the street. “I’m 35. I speak eight languages. I have presented all my documents to the French authorities but I didn’t receive asylum. Life is really hard on the streets.

“When you get up in the morning you have to search for a toilet, search for water and search for food. It is not easy to live here in a tent. The police open the tent zip and spray teargas inside. The French asylum system is the worst in the world. England is my last hope. If I don’t make it there I will have to return to my country and will be killed in one day.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK’s partnership with France in 2022 has resulted in over 15,000 crossing attempts from France being stopped – 70% more than this stage last year and since its inception in 2020, our UK-France Joint Intelligence Cell (JIC) has dismantled 21 organised crime groups involved in trafficking small boats and secured over 500 arrests.”

The French government has been approached for comment.