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UK to help France fund fight against migrant Channel crossings

Britain on Thursday promised to pay for the deployment of new surveillance equipment in France to fight illegal cross-Channel migration.

UK to help France fund fight against migrant Channel crossings
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner met his British counterpart Sajid Javid in London to hone police efforts to stamp out a surge in dangerous 
attempts by small boats to reach the United Kingdom.
 
An action plan signed by Castaner and Javid includes broader intelligence sharing and the installation of CCTV cameras that can offer live feeds from ports and “areas where migrants may attempt to embark boats” in France.
   
Britain will spend 7 million euros ($7.9 million) to cover the installation costs and also purchase new night goggles and cameras to capture licence plates and automatically transmit them to police.
 
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What France plans to do to prevent migrants crossing to Britain by boatPhoto: AFP

Around half this amount had already been pledged in a similar agreement signed in January 2018.
   
“It is vital we continue to work closely with our French partners to stop vulnerable migrants making these treacherous crossings and tackle the people smugglers who are putting their lives in danger,” Javid said.
   
Castaner said the new action plan “once again shows the UK's commitment to managing our shared border along with us”.
 
'No Eldorado'
 
A total of 504 people — the vast majority in the last two months — attempted to cross the Channel to Britain last year.
   
French interior ministry figures show 276 people successfully reaching British waters.
   
There were only 13 known attempts in 2017.
 
The crossings have received broad media attention in Britain and put pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government to respond.
   
Control over borders and migration was an emotive issue that helped the Brexit-backing camp win the 2016 referendum on leaving the EU.
 
Surge in English Channel migrant crossings continues as France stops 11 more
Photo: AFP
   
London in December dispatched a navy ship to help existing coastguard boats watch over the 21 miles (33 kilometres) of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
   
France also responded by announcing broader surveillance measures in its own “action plan” in early January.
   
Castaner said it was sheer luck that no one died making the treacherous journey in overloaded dinghies.
   
“But if tomorrow there is a death — just one death — it would be our collective responsibility,” he  said.
   
Castaner added that illegal migrants from troubled Middle Eastern countries who have been making the most recent journeys must know that “there is no 
Eldorado, no European dream” awaiting them in Britain.
   
The number of Channel crossings was just a tiny fraction of the 55,756 successful attempts made across Mediterranean to Spain that were recorded by the UN's refugee agency in 2018.
   
Security experts are divided about the causes of a sudden surge in illicit attempts to reach the UK that began in October.
   
But most agree that unusually calm seas and warm weather were contributing factors.

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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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