Migrant Stowaways in Europe

Europe is experiencing one of the most momentous influxes of migrants and refugees in its history. Huge numbers of people, fleeing from civil war and terror and lured by the promise of a better life, have escaped from the Middle East and Africa, risking their lives and the lives of others along the way. These numbers are increasing year by year and the vast majority (more than 80%) of those who reached Europe by boat in 2015 came from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

How is the UK affected?

The routes the migrants are using are fraught with danger. In 2015 more than 3,770 people drowned or went missing crossing the Mediterranean to Greece or Italy in flimsy dinghies or unsafe fishing boats. Others travel from Libya to Italy, a longer and even more hazardous journey. With the UK being one of the most prefered destinations for migrants the French port of Calais became a “waiting room” for the 6,000 people living in the makeshift camp known as “The Jungle” and waiting to cross into the UK. The shantytown, close to the ferry terminal had grown into a tented city containing shops, restaurants, a hotel and even a nightclub, however, in March this year the makeshift homes were flattened by bulldozers and the refugees were evicted. All that remains of the site is bare earth, while the refugees were offered spaces in new shipping containers. Understandably many of the immigrants spurned these, describing them as “prisons” and with the threat of being moved to new camps and the flooding of the area around Eurotunnel to discourage immigrants from entering, they are becoming even more desperate.

At first the prefered way to stow away was to board UK bound lorries, waiting to drive through the Tunnel or board ferries, but with the heightened security more and more are attempting to cross by sea and using the smaller ports without adequate protection against illegal migration. The stretch of coast along the east of England has become vulnerable as increasingly desperate migrants look for ways to dodge border controls; in fact any of the thousands of “landing places” around the 7,000 mile coast of the UK could be used for the small inflatable crafts which many of the migrants use.

Now British people smugglers are jumping onto the band waggon and only last month courts heard how British traffickers are making more than £300,000 per journey ferrying boat loads of immigrants from French camps into the most vulnerable ports on the UK coastline. Two men from Kent were each jailed for more than 4 years after they admitted trying to sneak 18 Afghanistans into the quiet port of Dymchurch, Kent. In another case a 52 year old sailor was jailed for smuggling 17 immigrants, some paying £7,000 a time, into Chichester Marina in West Sussex. These traffickers are often using unseaworthy vessels with no life jackets and little protection against the elements. In fact one couple were charged at Maidstone Crown Court after they were caught charging their passengers £5,000 for a place on their rigid hulled inflatable which they had bought on eBay.

What difference will “Brexit” make?

The decision to quit the EU could lead to a summer surge in illegal migrants trying to enter the UK before the decision is enforced. The boss of Eurotunnel has warned that it will give migrants a clear signal that the Anglo-French border will become like “a huge wall, similar to the Berlin Wall”, almost impossible to scale. Eurotunnel has unveiled new aerial drones armed with cameras to boost security on the French side of the tunnel by spotting potential trespassers. Britain is investing in extra patrol boats and surveillance to try to prevent migrants crossing the English Channel as well as tackling the problem of smuggling of weapons and drugs. Britain’s Border Force currently has three vessels deployed but the government have not yet specified how many more will be added. Border Force officers have also been given extra powers to stop, board, divert and detain vessels and make arrests and three maritime hubs are due to be set up to improve intelligence.

Are private boats in danger from illegal immigrants?

While the newspapers are full of stories of migrants using inflatables and small fishing boats in order to make the crossings to the countries of their choice, it has surprised me that I can find no information about private boats and yachts being hijacked. About 8 weeks ago my husband was stranded in the marina at Calais for 5 or 6 days, waiting for the gales to die down so he could cross back to Ramsgate on his friend’s 2-man yacht. He saw no migrant presence at all while he was there, in spite of the fact that they were moored only about a mile away from where Le Jungle used to be. One would have thought there would have been people from the camp watching for boats that were due to depart.

There must be hundreds of private boats moored up in small marinas along the French and Belgian coasts – surely a convenient target for migrants. Perhaps the owners of these boats should by wary and check their boats carefully in case the surge of immigrants makes them more vulnerable. There is also the problem that private vessels retuning to the UK might come across migrants’ boats in various states of disrepair and with their occupants in danger. Only recently twenty people, including eighteen Albanians, were rescued from the Channel after their inflatable boat started taking in water and a tour boat company has rescued scores of migrants from the Channel in the past year. But what if a private boat is hijacked or boarded. What should the owner do? Are there any procedures in place? I cannot find any.

The migrant problem looks as if it is going to get worse before it gets better. I am sure many of us sympathise with the people fleeing from dangerous situations and feel that our governments should do more to help. But it would be useful for boat owners to be given some sort of guidelines, should they encounter migrant boats or hijackers on their travels.

Any comments?

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