Camille MARTEL, UMR IDEES, Université Le Havre Normandie , France
Arnaud BANOS, UMR IDEES, CNRS, Université Le Havre Normandie – Institut Convergence Migrations, France
From 2020 to 2021, the number of small boat crossings from France to the United Kingdom in the Channel more than tripled. This deadly route, enabling irregular entry into the United Kingdom from France, is believed to have been increasingly used due to constraints imposed by state authorities on other modes of irregular migration (e.g. climbing on trucks, on ferries). SAR (Search and Rescue) operations, coordinated either by the British or French authorities and based on maritime law obligations, have soared in response to the rise in distress cases. Nevertheless, as precarious embarkations grow more and more crowded, so has the Channel become deadlier: in 2021, more than 30 people perished while attempting to cross, and many others disappeared. Improving the efficiency of search and rescue interventions has thus emerged as a crucial issue, raising the question of the availability of data and knowledge on these migration trajectories.
The situation in the Channel seems to typically exemplify the tensions surrounding the ambiguous need for in/visibility, both for state actors and for people making the crossing. To some degree, migrants themselves manage the degree of visibility their journey gains, taking advantage of factors for invisibility on the French coast (eg hidden departures from sand dunes at night or early in the morning), but also actively signalling their presence when in distress at sea, or after having reached British waters. Previous research has shown how researching the adaptation of irregular migrants’ routes to restrictions can serve state interest in further curbing these routes . Taking as an ethical premise that research should not harm those studied , we argue that the case of sea rescue is singular: when it comes to organising an efficient SAR system over a wide maritime area with limited resource, gaining visibility  on irregular migrant crossings and routes could enhance capacities to save lives at sea, thus limiting tragedies.
Mots clés : irregular migration|research ethics|search and rescue|visibility|maritime borders