Britain presses France to halt 'unacceptable' migrant crossings

Britain's right-wing Conservative Party government has looked to increase pressure on France to prevent migrants coming into UK waters.

A dinghy and life-jackets, believed to have been taken from migrants picked up from boats in the Channel by UK Border Force officers, arrive in the harbour, in the port of Dover, on the south-east coast of England on 9 August 2020. Picture: AFP

PARIS - A British minister on Tuesday pressed France to intensify efforts to halt the "completely unacceptable" numbers of migrants crossing the English Channel in often unseaworthy small boats.

Immigration Minister Chris Philp met French officials in Paris as concern grows in London over the numbers of migrants entering British waters from France.

"French authorities are doing a great deal of work... but the sheer numbers crossing the Channel are completely unacceptable. Unacceptable to the French government and unacceptable to the UK government," Philp told reporters.

"So it's quite clear that more needs to be done," he said.

He added the countries were working on a comprehensive action plan "with the objective in mind of completely cutting this route."

Britain's right-wing Conservative Party government has looked to increase pressure on France to prevent migrants coming into UK waters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said illegal migrant crossings were "very bad and stupid and dangerous", adding they needed to be stopped in cooperation with France.

"We are committed to taking action to make this route - facilitated by dangerous criminals - completely unviable and that is an objective the French government shares," said Philp.

'PARTICULARLY LUCRATIVE'

British Interior Minister Priti Patel and French counterpart Gerald Darmanin signed an agreement last month creating a new joint police intelligence unit to combat migrant traffickers, but it is unclear whether this has had any impact.

French officials insist France is doing all it can, with additional security forces deployed, to prevent the crossings. But they acknowledge the numbers have increased sharply this year.

Since 1 January, authorities in northern France have recorded 342 attempts or crossings involving 4,192 migrants, compared with 203 attempts and 2,294 migrants for the whole of 2019.

Philippe Sabatier, deputy prosecutor in Boulogne-sur-Mer on the northern French coast, said that attempts hit a peak on 30 July when 232 people attempted the crossing.

French officials believe that migrants pay smugglers some 3,000 euros ($3,500) per person for the crossings which use inflatables the traffickers buy online or even more rudimentary equipment.

"When the weather conditions allow it, they (the smugglers) deliver the boat to the coast and then make sure that their clients reach the embarkation point," Sabatier told AFP.

"It is particularly lucrative and easy to organise," he added.

Sabatier said that in Boulougne-sur-Mer alone this year four smuggling networks have been dismantled. He added that the zone the security forces had to cover was particularly large.

Philp noted that, for now, Britain must abide by an EU law that stipulates which EU member state is responsible for examining an asylum application.

Under the law, once a migrant enters British waters they are, if intercepted, taken to Britain and it is almost impossible to send them back to France.

But Philp emphasised this would no longer be the case after this year when Britain's exit from the EU takes effect.

"Of course, come January 1, we will be outside of those Dublin regulations and the United Kingdom can take a fresh approach," he said.

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