At least 27 people have drowned in the English Channel while trying to cross in a small boat. There were three children, seven women, one of whom was pregnant, and 17 men.
Although a joint search and rescue operation was launched in the narrow sea area between the UK and France (which is only 20 miles wide), highly equipped officials from both coastal states were not able to intervene in time to rescue the victims.
The British government has answered these deaths by calling France take back anyone who attempts the crossing,
Speaking in parliament after the tragedy, Home Secretary Priti Patel heavily emphasized the responsibility of the French government for the tragedy, which she called “not surprising”.
Regardless of how these people got there, the UK has clear legal responsibilities for anyone who finds themselves in trouble on the channel. Although the French authorities have strengthened their own efforts, Britain is bound by a number of international conventions to maintain strong search and rescue operations in the region.
What are the responsibilities of the UK?
It is not legal to send boats crossing the Channel back to France. Pushbacks are illegal (regardless of whether smugglers use small or large vessels to transport migrants), and states have an obligation under the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue to protect all people rescued or intercepted at sea. Take off in place of, which can only happen on dry land.
The UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants has concluded that this is because everyone has the right to individually assess their security claim before being deported. And in January 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Committee established that Italy was liable for failing to cooperate in saving the lives of more than 200 people who drowned in the waters falling in Malta’s search and rescue area, as Italian authorities were called. Had knowledge of the occurrence of the crisis and did not intervene at the appointed time.
Britain has a responsibility to people coming to its shoreline on boats. According to Article 98(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is the duty of nations to render aid to people in distress. It added that if they are informed of the need for assistance, they “should move at all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress”.
The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue states that a rescue operation can be considered to be effectively finished only when the wreckage is brought to a place of safety.
The duty under this Convention is one without qualification. Anyone in distress “even if” [their] nationality or status […] or the circumstances in which they are found” must be saved.
Importantly in the case of the UK, Article 98(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea urges States to promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of effective search and rescue services. “Every Coastal State” is obliged to do so and is liable for its violation if the inadequacy or inefficiency of its search and rescue service contributes to the loss of life at sea.
So, regardless of whether France increases its shoreline patrols to prevent people from entering the water, Britain must continue to protect people at sea.
The English Channel is a highly monitored area. On top of naval patrol, it is under aerial surveillance. Drones operate in the area and thermal cameras have been installed to trace people. Once a coastal state’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Center has knowledge of the occurrence of a crisis at sea, it has a duty to intervene – a duty that exists even when the boat is in its territorial waters or search and rescue areas. calls from outside.
Once a boat enters UK waters, the UK’s primary responsibility for search and rescue begins. There is no gray area when it comes to the Strait of Dover – the narrowest part of the channel through which most of the snappy migratory boats travel. Here, there are no international waters. France and the UK are so close that as soon as ships leave French waters, they enter UK waters. Britain’s primary responsibility begins the moment a boat leaves French waters.
duty to work together
The UK and France also have a duty to cooperate and ensure the completion of a search and rescue operation under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and the Convention on Search and Rescue to Prevent the Loss of Life at Sea. This includes the responsibility of both sides to contact the other’s authorities as soon as they receive information about people in danger and to cooperate with search and rescue operations for anyone in danger at sea.
Despite media coverage, European countries, including the UK, are no longer facing a migration crisis than in 2015, when more than a million refugees arrived in Europe by sea. Even if they were, and even during a public health emergency, their discretion is not absolute in determining how to react.
The duty to protect life exists for governments, not only under refugee and human rights law, but also under the law of the sea on search and rescue. Whatever the political pressure at home, the UK has signed a number of conventions that require it to cooperate to provide immediate assistance, save lives and get the ship to a safe location.