UK Border Force boats seen practising refugee pushbacks

Channel Rescue witnesses border guards use jet skis to turn an overcrowded boat around

UK BORDER Force vessels in the English Channel were seen taking part in drills today that, according to a human rights monitoring organisation, resemble the illegal practice of refugee pushbacks.

Channel Rescue activists spotted the training exercise from the beach at Kingdown this afternoon, during one of their regular patrols along Britain’s southern coast.

“We saw two large Border Force boats. One of them was called Hurricane and the other was called Seeker,” an activist from the group, who preferred not to be named, told The Civil Fleet today.

“We also saw three Border Force jet skis, and two Rhibs [rigid hulled inflatable boats], as well as two dinghies which look like the ones that people use to cross.

“We then saw them load a whole crew of people from one of the Border Force boats onto the dinghies. I don’t know how many exactly, but it looked to be around 15 to 20 people on each. They absolutely packed them full. They were sitting on the edges of the boat as if to replicate the situation when people are crossing.

“One of the dinghies went in a direction and two Border Force jet skis pulled up on either side of it. They then started nudging the front, turning the boat around.

“They were all wearing life jackets and they obviously knew what happening. But imagine a group of people that don’t know what’s going on, and are scared and feel like they’re being attacked by police on jet skis.

“It’s so fucking dangerous. It’s unbelievable that they’re even considering this tactic.”

The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel announced last week that the Border Force will begin forcing small migrant boats attempting to cross the English Channel back to France, a policy the French authorities have opposed.

Human rights campaigners have also condemned Ms Patel’s latest plans which, they say, contravene international laws that oblige seafarers to provide help to people in distress — such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and in the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.

Last week, the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was very concerned by the UK government’s plans and the risks involved for those making the crossings.

“Once a boat enters UK territorial waters, the UK’s primary responsibility for search and rescue is triggered,” a UNHCR spokesperson said.

“Under maritime law, states are obliged to proceed as swiftly as possible to rescue anyone in distress at sea, if it is safe to do so, and to disembark them safely.”

In a statement provided by the UK Home Office today, a spokesperson said: “We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings, that’s why we continue to explore all options available to bring these numbers down.

“Our primary focus is on preventing people from entering the Channel, tackling the criminal gangs responsible and protecting lives.

“As part of our ongoing operational response, we continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options for stopping small boats.

“All operational procedures used at sea comply and are delivered in accordance with domestic and international law.

“We will fix the broken asylum system through our New Plan for Immigration, break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk and welcome people through safe and legal routes, and as agreed at G7 we continue to cooperate with our international partners.”

The refugee hotline network Alarm Phone, however, cast doubt on the government’s stated intention.

“The UK Home Office have been studying the practices of their European counterparts,” an Alarm Phone activist told The Civil Fleet.

“Pushbacks are frightening, dangerous, often deadly, undertakings. They are a clear violation of human rights, not least the right to seek sanctuary.

“It is clear that the UK, like other European states, wishes to limit the scope of human rights to Europeans and Europeans alone. They thereby treat the non European as less than human. But what is to be expected of the UK establishment? They are, after all, the world’s original racists.

“As for protecting lives being their primary aim, there is nothing to say. If they want to stop people crossing using small dinghies through safe and legal routes, then they’ll need to be offering millions of visas a year.

“We’d welcome that, but at that point they may as well save on the red tape and let people on to the safe and legal ferries so that they can claim asylum at the border.

“Without either of those two actions, we call bullshit.”


Top image shows three photographs shared by Channel Rescue today of the Border Force operation [Pics: @ChannelRescue]

The Civil Fleet is not just a blog, but a podcast too. You can listen to an interview with Channel Rescue activist Kim on the following links: http://apple.co/3kBjDOp / http://spoti.fi/3zwdZ6s / http://bit.ly/3mJV4Bl

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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