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Dissatisfied with the dangers of the canals, desperate migrants still plan to cross

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CALAIS, France Lights on the opposite side of the English Channel were visible Thursday, encouraging Emanuel Malbah, an asylum seeker who has lived in a makeshift camp on France’s north coast for the past week, dreaming of making a pass.

I do not believe I will die, he said. I believe I will go to England.

Only a narrow waterway separates Mr Malbah, 16, and other migrants from their destination after long journeys across Europe from homes fleeing to the Middle East and Africa. But the narrowness of the crossing is deceptive, as it became clear Wednesday when at least 27 people died in a failed attempt to cross the Canal aboard a weak inflatable boat.

Despite the deaths, the disaster was one of the deadliest involving migrants in Europe in recent years. Mr Malbah and other people were still waiting for the right time on Thursday to get out of the woods with their boats and take a break for the beach.

In recent months, the number of migrants heading to the Channel has increased because authorities have hit other roads to England, particularly by truck through the Channel Tunnel.

This is a new Mediterranean, said Mr Malbah, 16, who arrived in Calais a week ago, referring to the 2015 immigrant crisis scene that rocked Europe.

Mr Malbah himself made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean to Italy after leaving Liberia, in West Africa, more than a year ago. On Thursday, he was speaking in a wooded area near the shore, where dozens of other asylum seekers were seeking shelter from the rain under the blue stones and were trying to warm themselves around the fire.

Driven by the tragedy at sea the day before, French and British leaders vowed to crack down on migrant crossings of the canal separating their two countries, blaming organized smuggling networks and also each other.

The deaths provided a vivid reminder of how little has changed in the five years since French authorities dismantled a large refugee camp in Calais. Both countries are still struggling to treat migrants in the area following a policy that immigrant rights groups and immigration experts say puts asylum seekers at unnecessary risk.

On Thursday, French officials confirmed that a child and a pregnant woman were among those drowned as crews worked in the cold and wind to find the bodies and identify the dead.

Two survivors, one from Iraq and one from Somalia, were found and taken to a French hospital, where they were being treated for severe hypothermia.

Grald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said authorities believed about 30 people had gathered on a boat he compared to a pool you blow up in your garden.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Britainspoke Prime Minister Boris Johnson telephoned on Wednesday and said they had agreed to step up efforts to prevent migrants from making the journey through one of the busiest transport lanes in the world. Britain is currently giving France money to help cover the cost of preventing crossings through surveillance and patrolling.

Although the two countries have long accused each other of doing too little to curb crossings, many immigration experts and rights groups say both sides share the responsibility: Their approach has been to make the situation of asylum seekers as much as possible. as difficult as possible, to discourage them from heading to Europe.

France is in a subcontracting position for Britain in the same way as Turkey is in Europe, said Franois Hran, a migration expert at the Collge de France in Paris. Why does France allow British police on French soil to help stop immigration? Because we share the same ideology that these asylum seekers are undesirable.

At the start of the European migration crisis in 2015, the English Channel was considered an unbreakable barrier, its moving currents and unstable weather making every attempt to cross very dangerous.

Many tried instead to get on trucks entering the tunnel under the Canal. But now police regularly patrol the roads leading to the canal and 12-meter-high barbed wire fences stretch for miles along several roads to the port of Calais. This has significantly reduced the number of migrants traveling by freight trucks.

Pierre Roques, co-ordinator of Auberge des Migrants, a nonprofit group in Calais, said France’s north coast had been militarized in recent years, adding that the more security there was, the more smuggling networks developed because migrants could not to spend themselves more.

Some Sudanese migrants lined up at a food distribution on the outskirts of Calais said police often passed through their makeshift camps, sometimes hitting them with electric batons. or Human Rights Watch reportsreleased in October described the tactic of harassing migrants to force them to leave as forced misery.

Immigrants play a cat-mouse game with the authorities.

Mr Malbah, a teenager from Liberia, described a switch attempt on Tuesday that had to be stopped because the engine in the inflated boat was not starting. French police appeared shortly afterwards and cut the boat, he said.

Didier Leschi, director of the French Office for Immigration and Integration, attributed the increase in Canal crossings sometimes to 50 a night, he said of a kind of mafia-like professionalism by smugglers who encourage migrants to go to sea, at prices. ranging from $ 1100 to $ 2800.

To monitor the long coastline from which migrants depart, he said, France will need tens of thousands of police officers.

Immigrant rights groups said that in addition to the crackdown, authorities have done little to address the increase in boat crossings.

Alain Ledaguenel, president of a private rescue organization from Dunkirk, the city from which most of the migrants who died on Wednesday fled, said his team has been engaged in three times as many rescue operations in recent months. in the sea.

We have been sounding the alarm for two years, he said. As of September, there is no stopping.

In a critical report released last month, the National Assembly said the French governments ‘migrant policy had failed and had led to violations of immigrants’ rights. According to the report, of all the money spent by the French and British in 2020 to deal with the immigrant population along the French coast, about 85 percent was spent on security and only 15 percent on health and other assistance.

This was evidence that authorities were pursuing a policy of making conditions in Calais as strict as possible to prevent others from coming, said Sonia Krimi, a co-author of the report and a lawmaker in Mr Macrons’s party, La Rpublique en Marche. .

It has been 30 years since we did this and it does not work, said Ms. Crime. Immigration has existed, exists and will always exist.

But the politically explosive nature of immigration, especially five months before the French presidential election, makes it difficult to consider new approaches, Ms. Crime said. Her report, which recommended improving migrants’ housing and working conditions, as well as simplifying asylum applications, was criticized, even by members of her party.

In Calais, immigrants hoping to arrive in Britain are becoming increasingly desperate.

Sassd Amian, 25, an immigrant from South Sudan, said he was pinning his hopes on trucks heading for the Channel Tunnel.

A graduate in architecture, Mr. Amian said it was his dream to go to England, which he described as a strong, well-educated, English-speaking country.

Mr Amian said he had fled the war in South Sudan four years ago and had endured crossing the Mediterranean to Italy, without food and water, after stops in Egypt and Libya.

When trucks go through a roundabout on their way to the Canal Tunnel, there is a moment just a few seconds when someone can try to slide between the axes and find a hiding place, Mr Amian said. Some people have lost their legs and some have died trying, immigrants say.

But after he succeeded so far, Mr. Amian said he was not afraid.

Death, he said, is nothing new in this life.

Konstant Mheut reported by Calais, and Norimitsu Onishi from Paris. Aurelien Breeden AND Lontine Gallois contributed to reporting from Paris.

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2/ https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/25/world/europe/english-channel-migrant-crossings.html

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