Another cross-Channel boat containing 25 “displaced persons” was brought into shore at Pett Level on Saturday, as the easing of rough sea conditions over the past week gave a fresh opportunity for small dinghies to make the crossing from France. On this occasion the local Independent Rescue Boat team were called out, and a crew of three were involved in escorting an overloaded dinghy into shore before its human cargo was processed by police and Border Force officers. Earlier in the day several other “migrant boats” were reported to have been taken to Dover after being intercepted in the Channel.

PICTURE: Andreia Loureiro

The regularity of the crossings over the past couple of months (reported in HIP 150 – “Calm Seas Entice Migrant Boats”) has spurred a war of words this month between Hastings & Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart and local refugee support groups.

On 5th May Ms Hart wrote an open letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel stating: “It has become clear that the chosen destination for many of these crossings is to land the boats along the coastline at Pett Level… The continued arrival of migrant boats is causing deep unease and concern to local residents, especially in the current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The letter went on to ask Ms Patel whether it could be established whether or not the migrants are bringing coronavirus to the UK, and to query what support is being given by the Government to the local authorities, including HM Coastguard, to patrol the Channel and  prevent the crossings from taking place.

This letter has not elicited any response, or not at least any open one, from Ms Patel. But it provoked a furious backlash from Hastings Community of Sanctuary, who joined with The Buddy Project and Hastings Supports Refugees in writing back to Ms Hart with condemnation of her language and focus.  Those risking their lives to make the crossing were not “migrants”, they wrote, but “asylum seekers” making legally justifiable claims.  Her assertion that Pett Level is a “chosen destination” rather than the outcome of drifting on currents and wind direction “implies an attempt to raise anxiety among local people”. And she was accused of “scaremongering” in suggesting that “people seeking refuge are coming in and infecting the community”.

Ms Hart herself is unapologetic, despite the fact (which she must be aware of) that local coastguards and authorities have no power to prevent numbers arriving, only the duty to see them safely ashore and then processed. She says that “a significant number of constituents” have emailed her over the past few months, including after last Saturday’s incident, “voicing concerns about the Channel crossings and asking me to raise their concerns and this issue with the Home Secretary” – and that is what she feels she has done. 

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