France and Britain trade barbs over treatment of Ukraine refugees in Calais

File photo. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin gives a joint press conference with the European Commissioner for Home Affairs (not pictured) at the end of an Informal meeting of European Ministers responsible for home affairs, in Lille, France, 3 February 2022. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

France and Britain engaged in a diplomatic spat on Sunday (6 March) over the treatment of Ukrainian refugees stuck in the French port of Calais, with UK Interior Minister Priti Patel defending Britain’s actions after earlier criticism from France.

The spat marked the latest diplomatic row between the two countries following Britain’s departure from the European Union, which has resulted in arguments over how to tackle migrants crossing the English Channel, as well as fishing rights.

The French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had urged Britain on Sunday to do more to help those Ukrainian refugees stuck in Calais, saying British officials were turning many away due to not having the necessary visas or paperwork.

“I have twice contacted my British counterpart, I told her to set up a consulate in Calais,” Darmanin told Europe 1 radio.

Darmanin said hundreds of Ukrainian refugees had arrived at Calais in the last few days, hoping to join family in the UK, but that many had been turned away by British officials and told to obtain visas at UK consulates in Paris or Brussels.

Patel later denied France’s accusations that Britain was not doing enough to help those Ukrainians in Calais.

“It is wrong and it is inaccurate to say that we are not providing support on the ground, we are,” Patel told reporters. “I have staff in Calais to provide support to Ukrainian families that have left Ukraine to come to the United Kingdom.”

Darmanin and Patel have clashed in the past over how France and Britain tackle the issue of migrants – many from Africa and the Middle East – risking their lives by crossing the English Channel in makeshift dinghies.

Migration is a sensitive issue in Britain, where Brexit campaigners told voters that leaving the European Union would mean regaining control of borders. London has in the past threatened to cut financial support for France’s border policing if it fails to stem the flow of migrants.

Last November, 27 migrants died when they tried to cross the English Channel in a dinghy.

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