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IMMIGRATION

Spike in illegal Channel crossings ‘deeply concerning’, says UK minister

Britain's Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes has said that a spike in migrants crossing the Channel by boat was "deeply concerning", after dozens of people were rescued overnight.

Spike in illegal Channel crossings 'deeply concerning', says UK minister
Illustration photo: AFP
British border officials found 23 Iranians in three locations in Kent on England's southeast coast early Thursday, hours after French maritime authorities intercepted 11 migrants in a small boat near Sangatte.
   
“The number of incidents over recent days is deeply concerning,” said Nokes.  
   
“Some of this is clearly facilitated by organised crime groups while other attempts appear to be opportunistic.”
   
Nine Iranians, including three children, were the first to be found early Thursday on a beach near the Kent port town of Folkstone, after sailing from northern France in a 13-foot (four-metre) inflatable boat.
 
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Surge in English Channel migrant crossings continues as France stops 11 morePhoto: AFP

Matt Crittenden, of the Littlestone-on-Sea lifeboat station, told AFP its search and rescue helicopter had spotted them and alerted police.   

“We realised they were safe and sound, and the police took over,” he said.
   
Britain's interior ministry said each migrant had been given medical assessments.
   
“All of the adults have been transferred to immigration officials for interview and the three minors have been transferred to the care of social services,” it added.
   
The ministry said two more boats were discovered at around 8:30am (0830 GMT), both near the port of Dover, carrying 14 Iranian males.
   
It said they had also all received medical checkups and been taken for immigration interviews.
   
Authorities on both sides of the Channel are worried about the sharp increase in the number of migrants trying to reach Britain by sea.
   
Attempts to cross the Channel — one of the world's busiest shipping lanes — have multiplied since October, with a particular spike recorded over the Christmas period.
   
British authorities took in 43 people in English waters on Christmas Day and December 26.
   
Nokes said officials on both sides of the Channel were coordinating efforts through a joint information centre opened in Calais in late November “to tackle criminality at the border”.

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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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