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IMMIGRATION

Spike in number of migrants rescued in English Channel as 14 more picked up

Britain on Thursday rescued 14 suspected migrants on board two dinghies in the English Channel, bringing the total number to 78 in the last two weeks, according to the interior ministry.

Spike in number of migrants rescued in English Channel as 14 more picked up
Illustration photo: Three migrants attempting to cross the English Channel in an inflatable canoe off the French coast at Calais, AFP
The South East Coast Ambulance Service said it was called to an incident at Dover, south England, at around 3:30 am (0330 GMT), where it treated seven people after they were intercepted in the Channel by Border Force officers.
   
They were all discharged without hospital treatment.
   
The ambulance crew treated another seven people, again not requiring hospital treatment, in a second incident at around 8:30 am, with the coastguard saying that it was also assisting in the rescues.
   
All of those rescued claimed to be Iranian, along with the other 64 people rescued in the Channel since November 9.
   
Nine suspected migrants were rescued in nearby Folkestone on Sunday, while seven were picked up in Dover on Friday.
   
On one day alone last week, 24 people were intercepted in three separate incidents in Kent.
 
“We have stepped up deployments of our coastal patrol vessels along the South-East coast in light of recent events,” said the interior ministry.  
   
“Nobody should put their life at risk attempting to smuggle themselves into the UK across the Channel and despite recent events, crossing the Channel in this way thankfully remains relatively rare,” it added.
   
Local MP Charlie Elphicke said that “not enough is being done”, calling the numbers “unprecedented and deeply concerning.”

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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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