Border Criminologies is an international network of researchers, practitioners and those who have experienced border controls. Our globalised expertise lies in research and advocacy around border controls, policing and immigration detention.

As the executive board of Border Criminologies, we are deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of at least 27 people as they attempted to cross the Channel on Wednesday 24th November. As more information emerges, we stand in solidarity with friends, families, and those affected by this news. We wish to raise deep concern around attempts to instrumentalise these deaths in defence of policies which restrict people’s right to claim asylum and force them to make increasingly risky decisions to find safety.

We argue that the UK’s current and proposed approach to reducing deaths at sea is unevidenced and not fit for purpose. We join calls arguing that under the current government’s approach, more deaths will inevitably occur in the Channel. Evidence collated from around the world demonstrates that global border deaths are produced by increased policing and militarisation at these sites. Global border deaths are not an unforeseen tragedy, but instead the inevitable consequence of such policies. Evidence is clear that neither militarised border policing, nor punitive asylum support policies, have the clear deterrence effects advertised by governments. Over time and space, people continue to cross borders in search of safety. Instead, these policies and policing practices force people into more dangerous routes and situations.

We call for those working within the media, civil service and politics to use this moment to re-evaluate, to challenge dominant dehumanising rhetoric and ways of thinking, and to demand that people within global immigration and asylum systems are treated with humanity, dignity, and respect. The language of ‘crisis’ acts to naturalise extraordinary, militarised interventions, but deaths at the UK-French border are not new. Indeed, deaths linked to attempted Channel crossings have been reported as far back as 2002. The increased media and political attention to boats pulling into Dover overshadows connections with previous instances of border deaths, including the 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex in October 2019.

Despite these deaths, successive UK and French governments’ have continued exclusionary approaches to border control which, rather than minimising risk to life, have worked to further produce it.  As previously highlighted in our Blog series, charities working in Calais have been put under increasing pressure to conform to the hostile legal environments created both by the UK and France. Rather than working with charities supporting migrants on the ground, both states have criminalised people defending refugee and migrant rights, making conditions worse and heightening desperation on the coast. We oppose the criminalisation of solidarity on both sides of the border. These actions do not prevent death, but ensure that people are subjected to harsher conditions without vital information. It brings into question, and highlights conflicting logics within, state priorities relating to the prevention of death at the border.

While the Home Office has consistently denied responsibility, these longer histories and geographical trends demonstrate that logics of border control globally cannot and do not protect life. Far from making the “business models” of human traffickers “unviable”, these policies in fact force people to rely on such networks to cross borders. Visa restrictions, the Covid impact on air travel, and the UK’s failure to roll out its proposed UK Global Resettlement Scheme have meant that now – more than ever – those seeking to come to the UK are forced into precarious routes.  Criminalisation of those seeking protection, therefore, cannot be the answer. We reject the measures included in the Nationality and Borders Bill which seek to criminalise the act of claiming asylum, which remains a right in international law.

In context, and informed by evidence, we call for a reconsideration of Channel management policies and an end to the continued global race-to-the-bottom approach of border violence. We call for an end to promises of ‘pushbacks’ laid out in the New Plan for Immigration Policy Statement, and attempts to implement this strategy through the Nationality and Borders Bill. As admitted by the Home Office’s own lawyers, turning boats back violates the Refugee Convention in international law as it amounts to collective expulsion. The policies outlined in the Nationality and Borders therefore stand on shaky ground in terms of both legality and evidence.

We call for both French and British governments to come together to provide safe passage for those wishing to make the journey from France to the UK.

Signed, Border Criminologies