EU ministers call for deal with UK to tackle migrant crisis
A meeting of European Union ministers in Calais called for a new deal with the United Kingdom on Sunday to tackle the wave of migrants trying to cross the Channel to England from France in small boats.
Four days after 27 people died when a boat capsized, Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said European authorities would work for a “more intense” fight against human smugglers organizing boat crossings of migrants across the canal. He added that the main driver of the displaced is the attractiveness of life in the UK.
Ministers responsible for immigration from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany met on Sunday afternoon to discuss ways to end small boat crossings.
Speaking afterwards, Darmanin said: “If immigrants come here to Calais . . . and risk their lives to cross the Channel, it is because they are drawn to England, especially the labor market.”
He said concrete decisions had been made to better monitor how smugglers buy and transport boats, and ministers agreed on the need for a new framework for UK-EU migration policy in the coming weeks.
Darmanin announced that from Wednesday, the European Union will deploy an aircraft to monitor and control the migration movement in the channel. He said this plane would “fly day and night” over the region, from France to the Netherlands.
Since Wednesday’s sinking, which rattled politicians across Europe, London and Paris have differed over a workable response.
The difficulty of resolving the 25-year-old crisis was underlined on Friday when France angrily withdrew its invitation to Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary, after Boris Johnson wrote a letter to President Emmanuel Macron and posted it on Twitter. The British Prime Minister called for the conduct of French and British naval patrols in each other’s territorial waters and the return of thousands of migrants who reach English shores to France.
Macron and his ministers objected to the content of the letter, which blamed France for the crisis while reviving proposals already rejected by Paris, and how it was promptly made available to British media.
This meeting was not anti-British. “He was pro-European,” Darmanin said on Sunday evening. “We must work with our British friends.”
“Great Britain has left political Europe, but has not left the world,” he said, adding that the UK had also had to create routes for displaced people to apply for asylum. France has proposed that the UK send protection officers to France to process asylum claims in advance so that migrants do not risk their lives trying to reach England.
Stefan Meyer, Parliamentary Foreign Minister of the German Interior Ministry, said an “agreement between the European Union and Great Britain” was urgently needed.
The meeting on Sunday was attended by Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, as well as leaders from Europol and Frontex, and the EU’s police and border agencies.
Michel Duclos, a senior fellow at the Institut Montaigne in Paris and an adviser to interior ministers under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said he believed police action was not enough: “We have to think in terms of providing a legal pathway to Afghans, Iranians, Syrians and . . . Ethiopians.” .
“France and the European Union should contribute, but it is clear that the UK should be open to asylum seekers coming from France, like any other civilized country,” he added.
A British government source said: “This week we will have further conversations with our counterparts about how we can work together to resolve this broad European crisis. Preti’s Citizenship and Border Act is the first step in addressing the broken asylum system and the attractions it creates.”
Patel warned over the weekend that a lack of cooperation would lead to “worse scenes” on the channel over the next few months.
In a statement, she pledged to “continue to press” for action during this week’s “urgent talks with my European counterparts” to “prevent further tragedies in the canal.”