Border deaths & the criminalisation of people arriving on ‘small boats’

Border deaths & the criminalisation of people arriving on ‘small boats’

Fortnightly Bulletin

Written by: IRR News Team

20 February – 5 March

This edition of the IRR Newsletter is published as the number of people who have lost their lives attempting to cross the Channel since 1999 surpasses 400. Within the last nine days four more people have tragically died attempting the crossing. Highlighted in our calendar of racism and resistance is the devastating story of a seven-year-old girl who died attempting to reach the UK on board a small dinghy carrying sixteen people, predominantly children, and including her pregnant mother, her father and three siblings.

The dangers people face attempting to make ‘small boat crossings’ are a direct result of the UK government’s deterrent policy that has removed safe and legal routes of entry and criminalises people on the move – a fact explored in the powerful commentary by researcher Vicky Taylor, published last week on IRR News. Taylor draws on her recently published report on the criminalisation of people arriving to the UK on ‘small boats’ and highlights the conviction of Ibrahima Bah on charges of ‘gross negligence manslaughter’ – the first such conviction in the UK – for the drowning of at least four people when the boat he unwillingly piloted capsized. Ibrahima was a teenager who saw his friend die in the Channel, as well as up to eight others, in December 2022, and maintains that he only steered the boat after being threatened and assaulted by those organising the crossing. In his sentencing, Mr Justice Johnson recognised that Ibrahima ‘played no part in the organisation of the trip’. He is a ‘scapegoat for deaths caused by the border and its securitisation’. As Taylor argues, the criminalisation of people crossing borders in search of safety will not ‘stop the boats’ or the deaths associated with these dangerous journeys. This week’s calendar reveals that the coastguard failed to attempt to rescue at least nine Channel boats containing children in the days leading up to the disaster of November 2021 in which 27 passengers drowned.

Also in the calendar, we cover the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of Shamima Begum’s appeal against the deprivation of her citizenship, and the Islamophobic frenzy whipped up by politicians around the pro-Palestinian marches, leading to proposals for yet further curtailment of protest and assembly rights.

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The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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