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MIGRANT CRISIS

Migrant Channel crossings: What will France spend the €72.2 million euros on?

Britain has agreed to pay France another €72.2million to prevent migrant boat crossings under a new deal intended to improve cooperation between the two countries. But what the money actually be spent on?

Migrant Channel crossings: What will France spend the €72.2 million euros on?
Migrants move a smuggling boat into the water at Gravelines, near Dunkirk, northern France. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)

The arrangement will lead to a 40 percent increase in the number of patrols to detect boats before they set out to sea, with UK officers joining their French counterparts for the first time.

That means an additional 100 officers will be involved in operations.

For the first time, teams of observers will be deployed on both sides of the Channel to “strengthen common understanding”.

The latest agreement comes just over a year after a previous deal saw France increase the number of police officers, gendarmes and customs agents dedicated to patrol its northern coastline to 650, in return for €63million in UK funding. 

There is not much in the way of in-depth detail available at the moment, but the new deal reportedly includes an agreement for extra investment in port infrastructure in France, better use of technology, including drones, and “greater cross-Europe cooperation”, as well as better coordinated information-sharing and efforts to offer migrants help and assistance before they make the dangerous crossing.

And part of the funding will be available for reception and removal centres in France for migrants prevented from travelling to the UK, to further deter crossing attempts, a UK government statement said.

Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman said, after signing the agreement with French opposite number Gérald Darmanin: “We must do everything we can to stop people making these dangerous journeys and crack down on the criminal gangs. 

“This is a global challenge requiring global solutions, and it is in the interests of both the UK and French governments to work together to solve this complex problem.”

READ ALSO What is France doing to prevent ‘illegal’ Channel crossings to UK?

Adopting a more cooperative tone to the rhetoric she has employed in the House of Commons, Braverman added: “There are no quick fixes, but this new arrangement will mean we can significantly increase the number of French gendarmes patrolling the beaches in northern France and ensure UK and French officers are working hand in hand to stop the people smugglers.”

Joint British and French collaboration has already prevented over 30,000 illegal crossing attempts since the beginning of 2022, according to official figures – a year-on-year increase of more than 50 percent compared to the number of attempts thwarted in 2021.

Despite these efforts, about 40,000 people – mostly Albanians, Iranians and Afghans – have crossed the Channel to England from France this year. That figure is well over last year’s 28,561, which was a thousand-fold increase from 2018 when migrants and asylum seekers first began sailing inflatables across one of the world’s busiest shipping channels.

The French government has previously said that the British government’s decision to close legal routes for people to apply for asylum from outside the UK is at least part of the problem, leaving them with little choice but to risk their lives in the Channel. 

They also claim that the lack of ID cards in the UK acts as a draw to people who believe it is easier to work illegally. The UK government rejects both these points.

On the Channel coast, doubts remain about whether incremental changes in the number of French officers patrolling the rugged dunes and wide beaches can reverse the rising tide of crossings.

Observers say the migrants’ boats are getting bigger, the tactics of smugglers more sophisticated, and departures are being recorded along a widening stretch of coastline.

Some 972 people were detected making the crossing on Saturday and 853 on Sunday during calm, sunny weather, according to UK figures.

The French coastguard is adamant that it cannot intercept boats once they are in the water because attempting to do so could cause them to capsize.

“I’ve watched so many British ministers over the years coming new to the problem and deciding that they are going to get a grip and somehow solve it,” former British ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, told AFP.

“But they all end up falling back on the realisation that the only way to bring this under control is by working with the French,” he said.

“To their credit, the Sunak government has reached that conclusion quickly and today’s agreement is good news,” he added.

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CRIME

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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