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IMMIGRATION

France jails 70-year-old ex-British navy captain over Channel migrant smuggling

A 70-year-old retired British navy captain and two other Britons have been given jail sentences in France for trying to smuggle a dozen Vietnamese migrants across the Channel in a motorboat, prosecutors said Tuesday.

France jails 70-year-old ex-British navy captain over Channel migrant smuggling
Three migrants who were attempting to cross The English Channel from France to Britain are seen as they drift in an inflatable canoe off the French coast at Calais on August 4th. AFP

The three men were arrested last Thursday a few kilometres (miles) from the coast near the village of Wimereux in northern France after a tip-off from 
British authorities, local newspaper la Voix du Nord reported.

The retired naval captain, Ronald Scott, was sentenced to 30 months and given a 10-year ban from French territory on Monday, while the other two were 
given sentences of one and two years respectively, the local prosecutors' office in Boulogne-sur-Mer told AFP. 

Each migrant had paid 9,000 euros ($10,500) for the short trip from the French coast to Britain, the prosecutor said.

France's northern coast remains a magnet for migrants looking to cross the Channel, with police and the coast guard fighting a constant battle against people smugglers. 

It's not the first time British people smugglers have bee jailed in France for attempting to ferry migrants across the Channel.

In July 2017 a French court jailed two Britons for over two years for having smuggled migrants to England in a light aircraft in what prosecutors said was a first.

Pilot David Green, 54, and his accomplice Edward Buckley, 46, admitted having made several flights from Marck aerodrome, near the northern port of Calais, charging passengers £10,000 (€11,120) each.
 
The local prosecutor's office told AFP it was the first time it had handled a case in which illegal migrants were flown out of the country in a private aircraft.
 
The defendants admitted having made five trips since April, each time carrying between two and four passengers on their light aircraft, normally used for tourism.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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