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IMMIGRATION

Body washes up on French beach after migrant crossing

A body found washed up on a beach in northern France is likely that of a teenage boy who drowned while trying to cross the English Channel with a friend in a rubber boat, police said Wednesday.

Body washes up on French beach after migrant crossing
Attempted migrant crossings from France to Britain have sharply increased this year. Here, UK Border Force officers tow a boat used by migrants to cross into southeast England. Photo: AFP

The friend, who said he was Sudanese, aged 16, was rescued on Tuesday night after the pair's small, inflatable vessel ran into trouble while trying to make their way to Britain from France.

He told police his companion, of the same age, had gone missing at sea, local authorities told AFP.

Hours later, a body was found on the beach in Sangatte in France's northern Pas-de-Calais region.

The body has not been formally identified, but local official Philippe Sabatier told AFP it was likely that of the missing boy.

“This unbearable tragedy mobilises us even more… against smugglers who take advantage of the distress of human beings,” Marlene Schiappa, France's minister delegate for citizenship issues, said on Twitter.

 

Attempted crossings from France to Britain have sharply increased this year.

Since January 1st, authorities in northern France have recorded some 350 attempts or crossings involving more than 4,000 people, compared with 203 attempts and 2,294 people for the whole of 2019. 

French maritime officials have rescued almost 1,000 people at sea attempting to cross the Channel in makeshift boats or even swimming, according to an AFP count.

The issue has been a source of tension in cross-Channel relations, with Britain accusing France of not doing enough to stop the crossings.

French authorities insist they are doing all they can.

On Friday and Sunday, rescuers plucked 38 and 31 people in small boats, including four children, from the Channel in small boats. 

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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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