Sangeetha was invited onto Sky News on 8th August 2020 to discuss the rise in small boat Channel crossings in recent days. Interviewed by Vanessa Baffoe, Sangeetha explained the problem first, before discussing the proposed ‘call to Naval arms’ by UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel.
The tragedy of asylum seekers taking this perilous journey across the world’s busiest waterway is down to one thing – the absence of safe and legal pathways to claim asylum in the UK. She explains that the problem is clear, when a border becomes securitised, or indeed militarised, it is harder to cross so the fee smugglers request for the passage is higher. Military presence to deter migrants only boosts demand for the smuggling industry, making it more lucrative and forcing asylum seekers to be held at the mercy of smugglers’ brutal tactics.
Sangeetha explains that currently, no one can claim asylum outside the UK, whether fleeing war in Syria or persecution in the Sudan, one has to arrive into UK territory, extending 12 nautical miles out to sea, in order to exercise the legal right to claim asylum.
In the last decade alone, since 2010, the UK has spent over £350million on border control operations in and around Calais. Sangeetha suggests that if those operations in Calais could be repurposed, so that Home Office ‘boots on the ground’ already in France would accept, assess and act on asylum claims in Northern France itself, that would effectively and humanely manage the in-flow of asylum seekers. A measure like this would not only save lives but it would quash demand for the thriving smuggling industry.
Sangeetha highlights that without an agreement, the Royal Navy cannot descend into French waters and ‘push back’ boats, indeed under maritime law, that would be seen as an act of War. Whilst there is a lot of talk of ‘push backs’ using the Ministry of Defence, Sangeetha underscores that ‘pushback’ is not a legal term, it is political jargon. The legal term is ‘collective expulsion’ and is manifestly unlawful under international law. The legal concern this sort of political rhetoric raises is twofold. Firstly, under refugee law, everyone is lawfully entitled to claim asylum in UK territory, which extends to 12 nautical miles from the coast. Secondly, under international maritime law, all captains of all vessels have a duty to help persons or vessels in distress. Given this, Sangeetha concludes it is hard to see how the reported proposal that the Royal Navy may engage in ‘pushing back’ migrant boats can be lawful.
Sangeetha’s view is that the Home Office doesn’t, as Sky suggests, ‘need’ the navy. Unless the Royal Navy is going in to save laves, which is what they are mandated to do, there is no role for the navy to play where Border Control vessels are already in place. Sangeetha concludes by reminding viewers that this is a crisis of border policy, not a migrant crisis.
Short clips from the interview can be seen here and below.
"What is unfolding on our coastlines is a tragedy."
Human rights barrister Sangeetha Iengar says the flood of migrants is due to "absence of safe, legal pathways to cross the Channel," and securitising our border is "boosting the smuggling industry."https://t.co/Q7sl7xTz19 pic.twitter.com/CKmGgsRIev
— SkyNews (@SkyNews) August 8, 2020