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UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS) - In response to the rapidly growing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers flooding European shores, France and the UK have announced new measures to crack down on English Channel crossings.
The deal consists of a new joint command and control centre in the northern French port city of Calais that aims to “relentlessly pursue and disrupt the callous criminal gangs that facilitate and profit from the smuggling of vulnerable people, often with total disregard for their lives,” Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May stated during a press conference Thursday.
Calais has become the focal point of a growing migration crisis, largely fueled by wars, hunger and political repression driving hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians out of countries like Syria, Libya, Sudan and other states across the Middle East and Africa.
An estimated 3,000 refugees live in makeshift tents in French port city.
The agreement also includes tough security measures such as increased police numbers, fencing, and CCTV to secure the Channel’s tunnel. The UK government has also pledged to establish a fast-track asylum process and to fund return flights for migrants. Britain plans to contribute 11.2 million dollars to the effort.
“Our joint approach rests on securing the border, identifying and safeguarding the vulnerable, preserving access to asylum for those who need it and giving no quarter to those who have no right to be here or who break the law,” said May and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in the 6-page agreement.
However, Calais is only one of many regions seeing increased migration.
The European Union’s border agency Frontex declared on Aug. 18 that in the month of July alone, some 107,500 migrants crossed into Europe, more than triple the figure in July 2014, representing the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008 that new arrivals surpassed the 100,000 mark in a single month.
What will the new agreement mean for Eritreans?
Many of the migrants that make the perilous crossing into Europe are from Eritrea. Each month, approximately 5,000 Eritreans leave the small country of six million people in the Horn of Africa, reported a U.N. commission of inquiry on June 2015.
In a migration pattern report, Frontex found that Eritrean refugees were the second largest group in 2014 to have migrated to Europe, after Syrians.
Eritreans flee to escape gross human rights violations committed by the Eritrean government.
In the 2015 inquiry report, the U.N. commission found cases of extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labour, enforced disappearance, as well as restrictions on speech, religious expression, and movement.
The commission also detailed the Eritrean government’s policy of military conscription, which forces men and women into national service indefinitely. This has prompted thousands of young Eritreans to flee the country.
Though the U.N. commission recognised that military conscription of citizens is a “prerogative of sovereign States,” it stated that it still involves the unlawful denial of freedoms and rights.
The commission concluded that the Eritrean government’s human rights restrictions could constitute crimes against humanity.
As a result, Eritreans migrate to Europe via neighboring countries of Sudan and Egypt. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, expressed concern over the human rights abuses in Eritrea to the General Assembly in 2013, stating, “The fact that they have crossed borders is indicative of the scale of despair these children are facing at home.”
The journey is not without its risks. Human Rights Watch has reported the brutal trafficking and torture of Eritreans for ransom money. Refugees also face the threat of treacherous boat accidents such as the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck that killed over 350 Eritreans.
But many are willing to face such dangers. While speaking to the Guardian, an Eritrean refugee discussed the decision to migrate to Europe, stating: “I have two choices – one is to die, the other is to live. If I die at sea, it won’t be a problem – at least I won’t be tortured.”
Such sentiments are heard often among refugees and asylum seekers who are increasingly risking hazardous journeys on makeshift vessels to escape brutal, degrading or even deadly conditions in their home countries.
In response to the situation in Calais, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee Programme Director Steve Symonds said that May must drop “tough” rhetoric on refugees and discuss “how the UK can save lives and protect the vulnerable.”
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, over 3,000 asylum seekers entering the UK in the first three months of 2015 were Eritrean, constituting the majority of applicants.
Edited by Kanya D’Almeida
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