Skip to main content

‘Don’t militarise refugee boat response,’ activists warn

THE government must not use Britain’s armed forces to deal with the small number of migrant boats crossing the Channel from Calais, activists have warned.

They were responding to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s statement that “our navy, air force and army stand ready to assist.”

Although the Home Office has not asked the military for support, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has declared the boat arrivals a “major incident.”

Mr Javid cut short his luxury safari holiday, reportedly costing £840 per night, to return to Britain.

Five refugee boats carrying just 40 people crossed the Channel on Christmas Day. A handful more boats have since made the short voyage.

In a tweet that went viral on Sunday, trade unionist Liam Young wrote: “94 people desperately attempting to cross the channel into the 5th richest nation of nearly 70 million people – who refuse to help them – is not a migrant crisis. It’s a moral one.”

Immigration control is not normally handled by the military. So far, volunteers from lifeboat charity the RNLI, along with coastguard and border force staff, have rescued any refugee boats in distress in the English Channel.

However, a precedent was set last year when the Home Office secretly used a Royal Air Force base five times for deportation flights to West Africa.

The department called in the military to help with expulsions after a protest grounded a deportation jet at Stansted airport.

Now activists are concerned that Britain’s military is poised to deepen its involvement with the “hostile environment.”

Tim Hansen, chair of the Refugee Info Bus charity that helps migrants in Calais, warned that “a heavy-handed militarised response would be dehumanising and largely unproductive in terms of arrival numbers.”

His comments were echoed by former British soldier Joe Glenton, who warned that the military was not a “cure-all for any issue that crops up” and accused the government of “hyping up the arrival of a small number of migrants into a major crisis.”

Symon Hill of the Peace Pledge Union noted: “This is the fourth time in less than a fortnight that Williamson has proposed deploying armed forces.

“People in a desperate situation – including children, let’s remember – need compassion and assistance, not the control and coercion implied by the use of armed forces.”

Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is a civilian organisation, falling under the Department for Transport and not the Ministry of Defence.

However, the MCA’s director of strategy is Brigadier Bill Dunham, a former deputy head of the Royal Marines.

This suggests that the MCA already has access to senior military expertise, without needing to call in the armed forces.

The refugee boats have also sparked media stories about people-smugglers. A Sunday Mirror investigation claimed that “armed gangs” of Iraqi Kurds were organising the boats.

However, a source told the Star that the organisers are in fact Iranians, settled in Britain, who are not violent.

The source claimed the boats were first organised to help fellow Iranians, with efforts made to procure seaworthy inflatable dinghies, engines and life jackets.

If the refugees are intercepted by the French authorities and returned to Calais, then the smugglers give them a second ride free, the source claimed.

The source blamed US sanctions on Iran that have ratcheted up pressure on the country’s economy, causing more people to leave.

Bishop of Dover Trevor Willmott called for a compassionate response to the refugee boat arrivals.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 7,909
We need:£ 10,091
15 Days remaining
Donate today