Two children were among four asylum seekers from the same family who were found dead in the English Channel this week as they tried to cross the busy shipping lane to get to Britain. The boat they were on board capsized during the journey from France. One member of the Iranian-Kurdish family was only 15 months old and has still not been found. Despite the many tragedies like this that asylum seekers have to endure, the British government has failed to implement a legal means of safe passage for those seeking safety on these shores.
Asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East and Africa are compelled to risk their lives in such journeys towards what they believe will be safety at the end. It is heartbreaking that so many die along the way.
This shocking incident should be a wake-up call for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel to act immediately and provide safe passage for those wishing to seek asylum in Britain. Such desperate refugees should not be turned away or have to risk their lives on open boats trying to cross treacherous seas. Nor should the coronavirus pandemic be used to justify harsh action against asylum seekers by politicians seeking to evade their duties and responsibilities under human rights legislation.
The French authorities said that the children who died were aged five and eight, and the death toll could rise as the search goes on. The scale of the crisis at our border should have triggered compassion from those in power, but it hasn’t. Their condolences are empty of meaning.There is a strong case for Britain’s strict immigration policies to be reformed. In the meantime, though, the government has opted to pin the blame solely on human traffickers whilst dismissing the role that it could and should play in the efforts to avoid loss of life in the channel.
Even more worryingly is that there are growing numbers of unaccompanied child refugees who are vulnerable and at risk. Lord Alf Dubs has been leading the call for changes to the immigration bill in order to help such children. This is the fourth time that Dubs has tried to get a safe passage amendment; the previous attempts have been knocked back by MPs.
Famously, Prague-born Dubs was saved from the Nazis by having a place on the Kindertransport which saved many, mainly Jewish, children in the run up to the Second World War. The amendment that he proposes would ensure that unaccompanied child refugees have the legal right to a family reunion after Britain leaves the EU on 31 December. Sadly, it is unlikely that the Johnson government will agree to his proposal, leaving children at the mercy of our immigration system. If the British government isn’t going to throw these children a lifeline, who will?
How many more children will have to lose their lives before Britain acts with compassion? Without action by our government, more tragedies of the kind seen this week will almost inevitably occur.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.