France steps up efforts to prevent Channel crossings

The French authorities have set out plans to prevent people in small boats risking the dangerous Channel crossing to England after the Royal Navy agreed to deploy a vessel to the Strait of Dover.

Measures being taken include improved cooperation between law enforcement agencies and more surveillance and security on beaches along the northern French coastline.

The French interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said: “This plan should allow us to end these crossings by migrants who are not only illegal but also extremely dangerous. It is in our interest, as it is for the UK, to not allow new smugglers to operate which would attract new migrants.”

The UK’s home secretary, Sajid Javid, has previously faced criticism for denouncing people trying to cross the Channel as “illegal” migrants without offering evidence of their motivation in making the dangerous journey.

Experts have also said his threat to make it more difficult to successfully gain asylum in the UK, which he said would act as a deterrent to people thinking of attempting the crossing, would be unlawful.

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has said the comments were part of a Conservative “obsession with maintaining a hostile environment”.

Javid said: “I wholeheartedly welcome this action from our French colleagues and it is vital we continue to work together to tackle the situation in the English Channel.

“France’s plan will operate in conjunction with the action that the UK is taking to protect our border and prevent the loss of life. We’ve stepped up our law enforcement response through the NCA and other agencies and earlier this week I announced two Border Force cutters would be returning to the UK from abroad – with a navy vessel helping with our patrols in the interim.

“The UK and French authorities continue to work closely through the new 24/7 Anglo-French coordination centre in Calais and we are developing our joint action plan which will further build on this work. I look forward to finalising it when I meet the French interior minister in the coming weeks.”

France said 71 crossing attempts were recorded last year, compared with 12 in 2017. There were 14 crossing attempts in the first 10 months of the year and 57 in November and December alone. Of the 71 attempts, 40 were successful and 31 failed.

Of the 504 migrants seeking to cross the Channel in 2018, 276 managed to get to British waters and coasts and 228 were intercepted by the French authorities. Most of the people were Iranian.

The increase in attempts to cross by boat is believed to be due to increased security at ferry ports and Eurotunnel.

Castaner and Javid have spoken in recent days about measures to tackle the situation. Castaner said the UK had agreed to continue providing financial support and technology such as drones, radars and video surveillance.

The French minister said: “The perspective of Brexit does not alter the need for our two countries to strengthen our cooperation to bring in concrete and coordinated measures to fight illegal immigration.

“The British commitments show the willingness of the UK to continue participating in the security of our common border.”

The UK defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, said on Thursday: “I can confirm that HMS Mersey will deploy to the Dover Straits to assist the UK Border Force and French authorities with their response to migrant crossings.

“The professionalism of the Royal Navy means the crew have been able to immediately divert from routine operations to help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Channel.”

Javid said the use of HMS Mersey was an interim measure until the cutters arrive back in UK waters from the Mediterranean.

Source: theguardian