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IMMIGRATION

‘Bizarre and unprecedented’: Migrants reach Britain in stolen French fishing boat

Twelve migrants have managed to reach the English coast after crossing the Channel in a stolen French fishing boat, using what authorities said Tuesday was a "unprecedented" means of getting to Britain.

'Bizarre and unprecedented': Migrants reach Britain in stolen French fishing boat
Ilustration photo: Fishing boat in the English Channel, AFP
French agents monitoring the coastline alerted their British counterparts after seeing a boat that was taking a “bizarre” route between 9.30pm and midnight on Monday, said Ingrid Parrot, spokeswoman for maritime authorities in northern France.
   
Officials identified the 12-metre (40-feet) boat and contacted its owner, who said the vessel had been stolen from the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
   
Agents from Britain's Border Force intercepted the migrants on land around 1am after they crossed in calm waters, according to French authorities. 
   
“It's an unprecedented method,” Parrot said, noting that previous migrants had previously used rafts or small sailboats unfit for Channel crossings.
   
Britain's coastguard confirmed it had assisted the Border Force but British authorities had yet to confirm details of the incident, including the nationality of the migrants or where they had landed.
   
French police are investigating the theft of the boat.
 
French authorities intercepted migrants in the English Channel 23 times in 2016 and 12 times in 2017.
   
So far this year French maritime officials have again launched 23 operations, either to rescue migrants in the Channel or to stop groups about to set sail.
   
Many of the African and Asian migrants who travel to France in the hope of reaching Britain continue to attempt to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel at Calais and other ports.
   
Last month, French authorities cleared 1,800 people, most of them Iraqi Kurds, from a makeshift camp near the port of Dunkirk.

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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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