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IMMIGRATION

UK intercepts 86 migrants crossing Channel from France in just one day

British authorities said they intercepted 86 migrants crossing the Channel from France on small boats on Tuesday, thought to be one of the largest number of apprehensions in a single day.

UK intercepts 86 migrants crossing Channel from France in just one day
Photo: AFP/French Marine Nationale

The migrants — including women and children — who hailed from eight different countries were detained in five separate incidents, according to Britain's interior ministry.

Some had made it ashore from small boats while others were still at sea when they were intercepted by the border force.

The arrivals are the latest in a spate of Channel crossings which have intensified this summer as migrants take advantage of mild weather to try to reach Britain via the world's busiest shipping lane.

Since January, 1,450 migrants have been rescued either by British or French coastguards — more than double the number who tried to cross the busy shipping lane in the whole of 2018, according to official French figures released last month.

Interior minister Priti Patel met her French counterpart in Paris last month, when they agreed “to deploy more resources along the French coast to intercept and stop crossings,” her department said.

AFP/French Marine Nationale

“We are working closely at all levels with the French authorities to tackle this dangerous and illegal activity,” an interior ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Border force cutters are patrolling the Channel while equipment including drones, CCTV and night vision goggles are in use.

“Crossing the Channel in a small boat is a huge risk. The criminal gangs who perpetuate this are ruthless and do not care about loss of life,” the spokeswoman added.

AFP/French Marine Nationale

Tuesday began with the interception of two small boats carrying 23 people from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Philipines.

Two further vessels were stopped separately off the British coast later in the day, with dozens of other migrants on board including Iraqi, Vietnamese and Ethiopian nationals.

Meanwhile officials also detained 22 migrants, including Turks, who had made it ashore in two locations on the southeast coast.

Those apprehended were taken to the port town of Dover, where they were medically assessed and transferred to immigration officials for interview.

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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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