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Record migrant English Channel crossings drive right-wing backlash in UK

The United Kingdom is planning tough new legislation to facilitate the deportation of undocumented migrants. Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised the action after more than 6,000 asylum seekers crossed the English Channel this summer from the French port of Calais. But human rights groups warn of the threat from right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Five years into the refugee and migrant crisis, the numbers of people fleeing to Europe are dropping, due to the pandemic, except in one place.

    A record 6,000-plus asylum seekers crossed the English Channel to the United Kingdom this summer from the French port of Calais.

    Human rights groups are warning of the danger of a right-wing backlash.

    From the Port of Dover, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

  • Protesters:

    We want our country back! We want our country back!

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The protesters are furious that record numbers of asylum seekers are landing on these shores.

  • Protesters:

    These are invaders. You should be protecting us, not them.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    One day this summer, more than 400 made it across the channel from France 21 miles away.

  • Protester:

    Four hundred and nine was it the other day. Are they ISIS? Are they Da'esh? Are they Taliban? Are they Somalian pirates? You don't know who you are letting in.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The protest began by the port, where migrants arrive after being rescued. On the busiest day last week, there were over 200, some saved from this dinghy in the world's busiest waterway.

    Given the callousness of people traffickers, these children were lucky to make it. An unknown number have drowned.

    Brexit appears to be a major factor behind this latest surge in channel crossings. Britain finally formally leaves the European Union on December the 31st. And the people smugglers are telling the migrants across the channel in Calais that they have to get here before that deadline kicks in.

    That's when, according to government rhetoric, Britain is really going to take control of its borders. But, if anything these crossings are proving that Britain is unable to stop them from coming.

    Britain's economy depends on free-flowing traffic in Dover. The demonstrators' weapon? A blockade.

  • Protester:

    Our streets, not yours! Our streets!

    We pay you!

  • Protester:

    Our streets!

  • Protester:

    Do your job!

  • Ken Tranter:

    We're just reflecting the anger. It's the people who sit at home who're angry, but don't come out and just tut, keyboard warriors.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Ken Tranter is a former mayor of Dover from the left-leaning Labor Party. Tranter argues that asylum seekers are treated better than thousands of homeless British military veterans.

  • Ken Tranter:

    Britain is under attack. I have no racism whatsoever, although I'm called far right for attending this march. I'm a socialist. I want everyone to have that chance.

    But I want to know who we're giving the chance to. We're not having someone who's disappearing into the black economy.

  • Protesters:

    Refugees are welcome here!

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The Labor mayor of a neighboring coastal town led a counterprotest.

  • Michelle Keutenius:

    Our culture is not just British. It is not just English. It is built up of people from all over the world. And I am proud to stand in solidarity.

  • Protester:

    No surrender.

  • Protesters:

    We want our country back!

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Dover is a symbolic battleground. For 1,000 years, its white cliffs have protected Britain, especially in the Second World War.

    Live streaming a sentimental wartime song from his tent, rally organizer Nigel Marcham, nicknamed Nobby, or the little veteran.

    Marcham's tactics blockaded Dover for several hours. Veterans participated, but so did white supremacists and other groups.

  • Joe Mulhall:

    I think we should always be concerned about the far right, no matter how small.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Joe Mulhall monitors activities of the far right for the nonprofit Hope Not Hate.

  • Joe Mulhall:

    I don't think we can judge the threat they pose by its scale, necessarily. It only takes one person to attack someone. It only takes one person on the far right to attack a migrant or to attack a migrant hotel.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Migrants in temporary accommodation are taunted by an extremist group, Britain First.

  • Man:

    All the migrants there, look, with their bags, all being ushered out of view.

    You stay in a hotel?

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    In the darkness, another sinister development. Vigilantes have been going to sea to turn back asylum seekers. They're called Little Boats 2020, and they are led by Jeremy Davis, a wedding disc jockey.

    Davis is infuriated by scenes like this, featured in a tweet from Nigel Farage, who orchestrated Britain's departure from the European Union.

  • Jeremy Davis:

    We got involved with this is because we're being absolutely taken to the cleaners by our own government. They're allowing people to come in. We don't know whether they're traitors, whether they're terrorists.

  • Joe Mulhall:

    Attacks on migrants and anti-refugee rhetoric doesn't only come from the far right. There's a broader societal issue here.

    But I guess the thing the far right offer in terms of a challenge is that they're often way more extreme, much more violent. And it's worth remembering we're seeing record numbers of terrorist arrests from the far right. This is a dangerous bunch of people.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But the Cliffs of Dover have been used as a canvas to fight back by Syrian war refugee Hassan Akkad.

  • Hassan Akkad:

    My name is Hassan. And five years ago, I was on the other side of this channel trying to cross here. These cliffs were actually visible from our makeshift camp, and they represented hope that I would live a safe and a stable life here in Britain.

  • Kolbassia Haoussout:

    You know the reality. The resources that us — that we, people like us, take in is really, really, really tiny, compared to the resources that the country has.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Kolbassia Haoussou was a political activist in Chad. He survived torture, fled Central Africa and arrived in Britain in a shipping container.

  • Kolbassia Haoussou:

    I have been here. I work. I pay taxes. I do everything that a citizen needs to do. I also contribute to the economy of this country.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    One contentious area for anti-immigrant activists is that refugees fail to seek asylum in one of the countries between their homeland and Britain.

  • Bex Moule:

    They are coming through hundreds of safe countries. They're stopping over at Calais, and they know that we are a soft touch. And that has got to stop.

  • Sonya Sceats:

    So, there is nothing under international law that requires an asylum seeker to undertake a particular journey in their quest for safety.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Human Rights lawyer Sonya Sceats heads a nonprofit called Freedom From Torture. She says asylum claims have been halved in recent years.

  • Sonya Sceats:

    They are very small numbers in the scheme of things, but there is a real sense of political panic which has been cultivated by the government for political ends.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Last year, Britain was the fifth most attractive European destination for asylum seekers, with 45,000 applications, a long way behind Germany, France, Spain and Greece.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning new legislation which will make deportations easier.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    We will address the rigidities in our laws that make this country, I'm afraid, a target and a magnet for those who would exploit vulnerable people.

  • Sonya Sceats:

    For hundreds of years, people have come to Britain as a beacon of freedom and safety. And that tradition is on the line at the moment.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Human rights groups blame government's policies for encouraging right-wingers. Here, they tried to force the police to take the knee to honor British veterans.

  • Protester:

    Who will take the knee for the veterans?

  • Protesters:

    Shame on you! Shame on you!

  • Protester:

    You will take the knee for Black Lives Matter, but you won't take the knee for veterans who have died.

  • Protester:

    They have got Nobby! They have got Nobby!

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    After taunting the police for hours, the little veteran was arrested, but released later the same day.

  • Protester:

    You're not English anymore.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The climate confronting asylum seekers may be deteriorating, but the lifeboat crew honors the international maritime covenant, to protect those in peril on the sea.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Dover.

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