UK Begins Jailing Migrants Who Cross English Channel from France
British Home Office has been pushing to criminalize deadly border crossings
The UK Government has started jailing migrants who make the deadly journey across the English Channel from France by boat, according to reports.
The British Home Office has been pushing to criminalize crossings after Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed to make the route “unviable.”
Britain was hit by record numbers of illegal immigrants landing on UK shores over the Summer as migrants scramble to breach the border before tighter post-Brexit laws come into force.
Migrants are now being jailed for steering dinghies across the Channel, even if authorities find there are “no organized crime group members” on board.
Immigration enforcement officials have been analyzing drone footage of small boats to single out migrants to be prosecuted for piloting them.
Last month, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) issued new guidance to lawyers after internal debate over whether such charges were in the public interest.
A document said the offense of assisting unlawful immigration could be applied to migrants who steer boats because they have “facilitated” a journey, according to The Independent.
The offense was previously used to prosecute people smugglers who bring migrants to the UK for profit, such as lorry drivers and members of organized crime networks.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, called for the CPS to make the internal guidance public in order to allow proper scrutiny.
“The government’s whole approach to Channel crossings has lacked compassion and competence,” he told The Independent.
“The home secretary should be working with her French and international counterparts and finding safe routes, including the reopening of the Dubs scheme and the Home Office’s refugee resettlement scheme.”
Eight migrants who admitted steering boats have been jailed since August, with sentences ranging from 16 months to over two-and-a-half years.
After serving their prison terms, they will be eligible for deportation.
A lawyer who has worked on immigration cases in Kent for more than a decade said there had been a shift in policy to charge “asylum seekers who put their hands on the tiller.”
The lawyer, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Independent: “They simply never prosecuted people in these circumstances before, it’s got Priti Patel’s fingerprints all over it in my view.”
Steve Dann, the Home Office’s deputy clandestine channel threat commander, told a press conference in September that dinghy pilots made up the bulk of over 100 arrests linked to Channel crossings.
“There are a lot more of those cases coming through the courts,” he added.
“This is not just about waiting until they arrive here and launching an investigation, we are using aerial assets to identify the pilots of these vessels.”
Campaigners said the policy meant authorities were "criminalizing asylum seekers" for “trying to save lives” by steering boats safely during dangerous journeys.
In press releases announcing the imprisonment of migrants for steering dinghies, the Home Office has called them “people smugglers.”
The CPS said people who pilot boats have always been liable for prosecution but the position was “clarified” in a note issued to prosecutors in October, due to the increasing number of these cases being referred.
Frank Ferguson, CPS immigration crime lead, said: “Every case referred to us is independently considered on its own merits and with reference to our legal tests, including whether a prosecution is in the public interest.
“The standard approach to immigration cases is to consider prosecution for those who have played a significant role in facilitating illegal entry to the UK, which includes those who pilot small vessels.”