The UK is looking to curb migration across the English Channel, but to do so, it needs help from France. The two states are now working together to eliminate the 33-kilometre route commonly used by migrants. Officials from both nations met on Tuesday and walked away with an agreement they called a “comprehensive action plan.”
Teaming Up With the French, Again
“French authorities are doing a great deal of work. They’ve intercepted well over a thousand people so far this year,” said Chris Philp, British immigration minister.
However, that was a minuscule amount compared to the overall total. In August alone, 650 migrants have made the trip across the English Channel in small boats, a third of which did so in a single day, the Associated Press reported.
“But the sheer numbers crossing the Channel are completely unacceptable to the French government, and unacceptable to the UK Government, so it’s quite clear that more needs to be done … If we can make this route unviable, which we are determined to do, then migrants will have no reason at all to come to France in the first place,” Philp added.
How much more France can do to help matters remains up in the air. Philp offered no specifics following his meeting with French officials and it was not the first time that the two powers have tried to join their forces against illegal immigration. In July they signed an intelligence-sharing pact to counter smuggling networks.
The new comprehensive action plan entails stopping migrants from even going to France, Philp said.
“We have worked on a joint operational plan with the objective in mind of completely cutting this route,” he said. “We’re going to be working at pace in the coming days to make that plan a reality.”
Legal Solutions After Brexit
Already the Royal Air Force has sent an aircraft to patrol the English Channel to assist immigration authorities, Reuters reported.
“The aircraft will track vessels and pass information to the Border Force who will then take any appropriate further action,” a Ministry of Defense statement said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also pursing legal avenues to cut down the number of migrants. He called smugglers “cruel and criminal gangs” and their operations a “very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do,” Euro News reported.
Johnson is eyeing possible legal changes within the UK to make their removal easier. After they have entered Britain, “it is very, very difficult to send them away,” despite the fact that they came illegally.
The UK will possibly have some respite from the situation next year after Brexit concludes. Currently, the UK is still beholden to EU laws and the Dublin Regulation. Under the statute, asylum applications can be transferred from one EU state to the first that a migrant entered. After Britain leaves the bloc, it wants a new agreement to regulate asylum seekers, Philp said.
The present law features a “number of constraints” that have proven prohibitive to transferring asylum seekers, he said.
Migrant Rights Groups Protest
Although Britain is keen to reduce the number of migrants and trying once again to generate results by partnering with French authorities, refugee groups are less enthusiastic.
“Seeking asylum is not a crime, and it is legitimate that people have to cross borders to do so,” said Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at the Refugee Council. “Instead of scapegoating people in desperate circumstances, the prime minister and his government could address this by ensuring that people do not have to take these risks.”
Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, called on London to provide a long-term solution that is both safe and legal.
“Britain is better than this. We have a proud history of welcoming people fleeing some of the most violent and oppressive regimes in the world and we can’t stop now,” Hale said.
Crossing the English Channel is a dangerous proposition, which is part of the reason London and Paris wish to shut down the route. Last year, four migrants died in an attempt to cross it.
They don’t know the wind, the currents, the tides … They’re usually carrying too much, their boats are generally badly-equipped … they don’t always have life vests,” said Marine Monjarde, spokeswoman for the Maritime Prefecture of northern France.
Although Johnson and British immigration authorities paint the English Channel as the largest obstacle to controlling migration, Home Office data suggests it is not the primary route, The Guardian reported. Furthermore, the UK only received 36,000 asylum application last year, a stark contrast to 165,615 in Germany and 151,070 in France.
Other avenues of illegally entering the UK include undersea trains and stowing aboard trucks that cross the channel on ferries.
Just For Show
Johnson has chosen to target the English Channel because of its visibility. It is easy to point out the dinghies and kayaks that migrants risk their lives in. However, even if the English Channel were completely shut off as a path to British asylum, a majority of refugees would still find their way to the UK.
London has tried coordinating with Paris, multiple times in fact, to end refugee smuggling. The logical solution would be to do as refugee groups suggest, to create a legal pathway for migrants who are often fleeing for their lives. Although Britain will leave the EU at the end of the year, France remains a part of the bloc and thus is still subject to its laws. Therefore, it is pertinent that the UK establish an agreement with how to handle refugee matters going forward.
That long-term solution will be London’s best chance at curtailing the number of asylum seekers. For now, the English Channel crackdown is merely for show.