Nobel winner hits out at UK, France over Channel migrants

Nobel winner hits out at UK, France over Channel migrants

Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah criticised Britain and France for demonising migrants trying to cross the Channel.
Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah criticised Britain and France for demonising migrants trying to cross the Channel.

LONDON - British novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, criticised on Tuesday the "inhumane" responses of the UK and French governments to the Channel migrant crisis.

"There is something quite inhumane I think in the responses of these two governments, particularly I think of the British government," he said in an online press conference the day after receiving his Nobel winner's medal.

"It's rather strange almost to see the language, the narrative that is constructed against or about these attempts to cross," he added.

This year has seen a record number of migrants seeking to cross the Channel from northern France to Britain, risking their lives on one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

Last month saw a tragedy in which at least 27 people drowned.

The issue has become a flashpoint for leaders in London and Paris, provoking a war of words amid rising anti-immigrant sentiment in both countries.

Around 26,000 people have crossed so far in 2021, leading to severe pressure on the UK government which had vowed to reduce migration after pushing through Britain's departure from the European Union.

London has previously mooted exploring ways to turn around migrants' boats in the Channel.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also proposed sending back all migrants landing in Britain, a move he claimed would save "thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs".

Meanwhile, legislation currently working its way through the British parliament would increase the maximum sentence for migrants entering the UK unlawfully from six months to four years, while convicted people-smugglers could face a life sentence.

The draft law, which ministers have called the biggest overhaul of asylum rules in decades and is based on the idea that people should claim asylum in the "first safe country" they arrive in, has been heavily criticised by rights groups.

Gurnah, who won the prestigious Nobel award in October, has been acclaimed for his novels' focus on the plight of refugees, as well as the effects of colonialism.

The 72-year-old author fled to Britain from Zanzibar in late 1967, later acquiring British citizenship.

In his virtual press conference, Gurnah also said he had been left wondering whether the British government's failure to congratulate him for landing the prize could be down to the fact he is an African-born writer.

"It's possible that that could be the explanation, that they don't quite see this writer as somebody to whom they owe congratulations," he added.

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