A 19-year-old man has been charged with facilitating illegal entry into the UK in connection with the sinking of an inflatable boat in the English channel during which four people drowned.
Police say that they are still working to establish the identity of those who died in the early hours of Dec. 11 as they attempted to cross the 20-mile-wide English channel in the dark during the first cold snap of winter.
The police and coastguard carried out a rescue operation, and 39 people were brought to safety on the shore.
In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his “sorrow” at the incident.
Sunak's PlansPresenting a packed five-point plan to Parliament, Sunak said he would set up a dedicated team to crack down on people smuggling using small boats and working illegally in the UK; house asylum seekers in cheaper accommodation; revamp the asylum application process to ramp up productivity; and speed up the deportation of failed applicants.
The policy announcement came as almost 150,000 asylum applications are waiting for decisions, with almost two-thirds having waited for more than six months.
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, hailed the announcement as a “welcome, if belated” proposal to solve the problem, but told The Epoch Times the prime minister and his party will be judged “on results.”
But Peter William Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said that Sunak’s announcement may be interpreted as “tough rhetoric” rather than a real change in policies. He said that if read at face value, the stated plan to kick out all illegal arrivals could involve the UK neglecting its international obligations on asylum claims.
Sunak announced a “permanent” and “unified” Small Boats Operational Command, which he said will consolidate the military and civilian capabilities to take a coordinated approach to policing the English Channel.
Sunak also referenced an agreement made specifically with Albania.
Sunak's plans mean most claims from Albanians can “simply be declared ‘clearly unfounded,'" Sunak said, before unveiling a new deal with the Balkan country which contributed a third of all small-boat arrivals this year.
Citing Albania’s credential as “an EU accession country, a NATO ally and a member of the same treaty against trafficking as the United Kingdom,” Sunak argued the UK should deny the claims of the majority of Albanians making their way illegally to UK shores.
Crossing DeathsThe Conservative government has argued that stemming the flow of people making the dangerous crossing of the English channel—one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world–from France is partly about saving lives.
Precise figures on the number of deaths during the attempted crossings are unknown, with incidents involving a handful of deaths typically officially announced by French or British authorities every few months during the last few years.
Last autumn, French authorities reported that 27 people drowned off the French coast as they attempted the crossing in bad weather.
Channel crossings make up a growing proportion of illegal immigration to the UK. However, the majority of illegal immigrants in the UK are those who have overstayed visas, failed to receive asylum, or have obtained visas illegally.
There is little precise information on levels of what might be categorized as illegal immigration into the UK, not least because the definition of “illegal” immigration is also hard to pin down and is subject to different interpretations and uses.