New France-UK cooperation plan to tackle illegal Channel crossings

The HMS Mersey has been roaming the Channel over the past few days to stem migrant crossings.

France and the United Kingdom are trying to stem the number of illegal crossings made by migrants across the Channel, with a new cooperation plan to be announced in the coming weeks. EURACTIV France reports.

In 2018, 71 vessels attempted to reach the United Kingdom via the Channel compared to only 12 in 2017. The vast majority of last year’s attempts took place in November and December, according to the French Ministry of the Interior.

Its British counterpart stated that 539 migrants had attempted the crossing in 2018, 80% of which had occurred over the last three months and 230 in December alone. This increase is due to the fact that security at the ferry and Eurotunnel terminals has been tightened, as well as because of the improved weather conditions.

“The sea conditions were quite mild throughout the month of December,” explained Stéphane Dupré from the French public weather forecaster Météo-France.

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The British government chose to dispatch one of its Royal Navy ships and the HMS Mersey has been patrolling the waters of the Channel to assist the two British coastguard vessels already there since the beginning of January, .

Three objectives

“This naval presence has three objectives: intercepting migrant vessels, sending a clear signal of firmness and, of course, saving lives,” a British diplomatic source said.

The deployment of a British navy boat is expected to remain a temporary measure while two other British coastguard vessels come up from the Mediterranean. The British are concerned by their low capacity to patrol the Channel.

The MP for Dover and Deal, Charlie Elphicke, is calling for greater resources to secure the entire British coast. “Having two boats guard the coast is absolutely ridiculous,” he recently said.

The rhetoric from the French side is intended to reassure. “Brexit does not alter the need for our two countries to strengthen our cooperation to strengthen our bilateral cooperation to fight illegal immigration,” said Christophe Castaner, the French Minister of the Interior.

Extremely dangerous crossings

On 4 January, Castaner presented a “zonal and departmental” plan to strengthen the fight against illegal crossings. The plan should “end these Channel crossings by migrants which are not only illegal but also extremely dangerous.”

The low temperature of the water which, at below 10°C, the strong sea currents and the very heavy traffic of all kinds of boats make attempting a crossing particularly dangerous.

Combating people-smuggling networks and securing the ports of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais are highlighted in this plan. In recent months, there has been an increase in thefts of small vessels.

Drones to patrol beaches

Sajid Javid, the British Home Secretary, committed to “maintaining, in continuity with the Sandhurst Treaty of 18 January 2018, the United Kingdom’s support of the joint management of the common French-British border,” it was stated at the French Ministry of the Interior.

The issue of the financial burden for drones patrolling the beaches between Calais and Boulogne was also raised.

“Between these two ports, there are a dozen crossing points and they are known,” noted Maya Konforti, a volunteer at Auberge des Migrants, an association which provides humanitarian assistance to migrants in the Calais region. This would facilitate the work of these drones, should they be implemented.

Despite all this, there are still more than 1,000 people between Calais and Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, hoping to cross to the other side of the Channel.

New cooperation plan in sight

“Migrant camps are dismantled every day, or every other day,” Konforti noted. “These people’s psychological state is a concern.” Constantly looking for a place to sleep or to rest, “they discuss the next good idea for crossing among themselves, and even if they find one, they won’t share it with us,” the volunteer explained.

Meanwhile, the governments on both sides of the Channel are making preparations to set up a joint action plan to improve cooperation. “It will be finalised in the coming weeks,” it is said on the British side.

Castaner is expected to travel to London soon to make the plan’s implementation official.

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