Guest post by Anya Edmond-Pettitt. Anya is a researcher on the Institute of Race Relations’ European Research Programme. She has contributed to a number of IRR reports on the criminalisation of solidarity including ‘Deadly Crossings and the militarisation of Britain’s borders.’ She has volunteered for various projects in Calais since 2016 and is currently researching issues of environmental racism in relation to migrants, refugees and Roma communities.

deadly crossings

Much has been written about the ‘Fortress Europe’ politics of securitisation in the Mediterranean, which has resulted in such an appalling death toll. However, not nearly the same attention has been paid to the ‘Fortress Britain’ securitisation of the Franco-British border and the death toll there. So, when French activist Maël Galisson from the Plateforme des soutiens aux Migrants approached colleagues at the Institute of Race Relations and the London Steering Group of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT/LSG) looking for help in translating, updating and publishing in English his work on this topic, published in France in 2016, we gratefully agreed to assist. The result is our new report Deadly Crossings and the militarisation of Britain’s borders, published by IRR in conjunction with the French organisation GISTI and with support from the PPT/LSG.

The report, published at the end of October 2020, details 297 deaths attributable to the hard border (a border that is strongly controlled and enforced by officials, checks and even physical barriers) since 1999, adding to the growing body of work exposing and analysing the tangible consequences of border controls. In a succinct history of border enforcement policy at the Franco/British border, Galisson and (in her introduction) Frances Webber explore the roles of France and Britain in militarising the border and port of Calais over the last two decades, which have led people to take more and more dangerous routes to cross the English Channel. Data on those who have lost their lives in the attempt, gathered diligently by Galisson over the past 20 years, is presented in a chronology which sets out what is known about each of the dead.  

The work builds on that of NGOs, activist groups and pioneering academics such as Leanne Weber and Sharon Pickering on the importance of accounting for border deaths. We are concerned with exposing the events and incidents that go unnoticed, overlooked or supressed, to give a face and a story to the dead and hold states responsible for their deaths. By giving as much detail as possible to the lives of those seeking safety and security, the report aims to give an identity and a history to these ‘nameless bodies’ and ‘names without history’. Counting also explicitly demands accountability on the part of states. For these deaths are not anomalous or a result of a flaw in the system, not ‘natural’ nor ‘tragic accidents’, but an accepted and well-known outcome. They are man-made, created by policies which do not merely close borders but erect ever more obstacles to safe travel for the most vulnerable.

Deadly Crossings uses a number of media formats to try to rescue the dead from anonymity and to illustrate the relationship between border technologies and their deaths. Alongside the 30-page chronology, that sets out all the information gathered on each person who has died, there is a photo – often a posed smiling face, which makes the person real in a way little else can. Then there are two interactive online graphics: a timeline that can be viewed either in 2D or 3D format; and a map on which pins have been positioned noting the place of death for each person included in the report. Both of these can be viewed and used independently of the textual report, and (being web-based) will be regularly updated. The two interactive graphics can be used alongside Galisson’s detailed history of securitisation to show how the erection of huge fences to stop displaced people reaching the motorway led to them resorting to the Tunnel and a spate of deaths by electrocution or being hit by a train. The history also shows how the enhancement of security at the Tunnel returned people to the roads and the risk of being hit by a lorry or crushed by a wheel axle. Finally, Galisson highlights how the ultra-securitisation of both road and rail links has meant that they are now driven to attempt crossings in small boats or even swimming, reflected in an increase in deaths by drowning or heart failure. Just as the British government is faced with this desperate flotilla, it chooses to militarise the Channel itself.  

Though the report is as comprehensive as possible, it is important to note that, as with all work on deaths of undocumented people attempting to cross borders, often very little is known about them as individuals. In other ways too, the report is incomplete; not all deaths of people on the move are reported, or even known about. It is only possible to gather details of those known to have died, either through official records, media reports, or in a small number of cases, where a survivor is able to tell the story and the life of the dead.

We hope that Deadly Crossings will be a useful tool for anyone working in the field of migration, from activists to academics. Through its focus on the details of those who have lost their lives attempting to cross the Channel, as well as on the policies that created the conditions driving them to take fatal risks, it recentres the human cost of the hard border.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Edmond-Pettitt, A. (2021). Deadly Crossings and the Militarisation of Britain’s Borders. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/02/deadly-crossings [date]