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France announces plan to counter migrant Channel crossings

3 migrants try to cross the Channel in a dinghy off the French coast of Calais, 4 August 2018.
3 migrants try to cross the Channel in a dinghy off the French coast of Calais, 4 August 2018. STR / AFP

French authorities have announced an “action plan” to prevent people in small boats risking the dangerous Channel crossing to Britain. It promises the plan will end a phenomenon that has alarmed the Conservative government in London.


The plan will include improved police patrols around ports where some migrants have tried to steal boats, as well as surveillance of beaches where dinghies have been launched from. Notably, there will be increased cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

“This plan should allow us to end these crossings by migrants who are not only illegal but also extremely dangerous,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner was quoted as saying in the statement on Friday. “It is in our interest, as it is for the UK, to not allow new smugglers to operate which would attract new migrants.”

The plan follows a recent increase in Channel crossing by asylum-seekers, mainly Iranians, which led British Home Secretary Sajid Javid to declare a “major incident”. The government is now under pressure to provide a response.

“I wholeheartedly welcome this action from our French colleagues,” Javid said, adding that it was vital the two countries “continue to work together to tackle the situation in the English Channel”.

A British navy ship was patrolling the Channel on Friday in addition to four other British coastguard boats which watch over the 33 kilometres of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.

France has already doubled the number of coastguard boats in the Channel to between two to four per night depending on the weather, a spokeswoman for French marine operations in the area told AFP this week.

The new French measures build on the joint action plan announced on December 31 by the French and British government, according to the statement from the French Interior Ministry.

Exaggerated fears?

Earlier on Friday, Benjamin Griveaux, the French government spokesman, downplayed the phenomenon of sea crossings in the Channel compared to the number of people crossing the Mediterranean by sea.

“We are not talking about the same level at all,” Griveaux said.

According to figures from the French Interior Ministry 504 people, the vast majority in the last two months, tried to cross the Channel to Britain in 2018. 276 reached British waters.

The UN’s refugee agency meanwhile showed that 55,756 people crossed the Mediterranean to Spain last year.

Griveaux said there was “no requirement to increase any further the resources there (on the Channel coast) which are working very well and are proving their worth.”

Why the sudden surge in crossings?

Unusually calm weather in recent months may have encouraged people to try and cross say coastguard and security officials.

Britain’s looming exit from the European Union at the end of March could also be part of the explanation as migrants fear Britain will clamp down even harder on immigration post-Brexit.

But Fabien Sudry, a top security official in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, recently told AFP that the most likely reason was the larger than usual number of Iranians arriving in the port of Calais.

They have attracted, or led to the creation of, a new people-smuggling network which is trying to avoid increasingly tough security controls in the port where migrants try to stow away on trucks heading for Britain.

The Franco-British plan is expected to include greater intelligence sharing about smuggler networks.

(with AFP)

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