What France plans to do to prevent migrants crossing to Britain by boat

The French government announced on Friday an "action plan" to counter the rising number of migrants crossing the English Channel by boat to get to the UK. The plan includes boosting security at beaches along the north coast.

What France plans to do to prevent migrants crossing to Britain by boat
French workers repair "L'Epervier" on November 29, 2018, a boat that was stolen and damaged by migrants who tried to cross the English Channel, in Wissant, northern France. Photo: AFP

The plan, aimed at preventing migrants crossing to the UK by boat, was launched by authorities in the country's two most northern departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais.

It comes after the UK's Conservative government has grown increasingly alarmed by the rise in the number of migrants attempting the dangerous sea crossing in recent weeks.

The increase, which French authorities had previously linked to Britain's impending withdrawal from the EU, was described as a “major incident” by the UK's Interior Minister Sajid Javid. He was roundly criticised by opponents who pointed out that the number of migrants successfully reaching the UK was in the low hundreds.

France's plan to counter the sea crossings include boosting surveillance and security at the ports of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais, which include increasing the number of police patrols and improving security systems.

There will also be increased surveillance and security at beaches and other coastal points along the north coast which are known to be launching pads for the crossings.

French authorities will also put measures in place to make businesses along the coast more aware of migrants who might be preparing to attempt a crossing, including the owners of shops which sell boating equipment or tourism companies that hire out boats.

Managers of small harbours and fishing areas will also be asked to be more vigilant.

The plan will also include measures aimed at tackling the human traffickers who are making money out of the migrants prepared to risk their lives to make the highly perilous crossing.

These measures will include bringing suspects to justice in a speedier fashion.

Cooperation and coordination between authorities and police in the two northern departments as well as France's maritime officials will also be stepped up. 

Sea and air patrols by the French Navy, the Gendarmerie and the country's Border Patrol teams will all be increased.

France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said: “This plan should allow us to put an end to these crossings by migrants which are not only illegal but extremely dangerous.

“It is in our interest, and that of the UK, to make every effort not to allow new networks to develop that would attract undocumented migrants to the north coast.”

These new measures will be in addition to a joint action plan announced on December 31 by the French and British government, according to a statement from the French interior ministry.

France's interior ministry also release details of the number of sea crossings made by migrants in recent months.

In 2018 there were 71 attempts to cross the Channel by boat, compared to 12 in 2017.

Some 14 of those attempts were made in The first 10 months and 57 in the last two months of the year.

Out of these 71 attempts 31 failed and 40 succeeded. In total out of the 504 migrants who attempted to reach the UK by boat in 2018, 276 successfully made it to the British coast while 228 were intercepted by French authorities and returned to France, the ministry said.

Data from the UN's refugee agency showed that 55,756 people crossed the Mediterranean to Spain in 2018.

It added that the vast majority of those attempting to make the crossing were Iranian migrants and blamed the rise in the number of boat crossings on the increased security at ferry ports and the Eurotunnel rail terminal.

The ministry said many of the attempted crossings were made in makeshift rafts, which put the lives of the migrants in grave danger.

France, Britain agree action plan on migrant Channel crossings

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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.