UK and France sign agreement to curb migrant crossings

Britain and France have signed a new agreement aimed at curbing the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin said they wanted to make the route used by more than 8,000 people this year unviable.

They agreed to double the number of French police patrolling a 150km stretch of coastline targeted by people-smuggling networks.

However, the Home Office did not say how many more officers would be deployed.

The announcement was criticised by a charity as an ‘extraordinary mark of failure’ akin to ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’.

Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured)  and her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin said they wanted to make the route used by more than 8,000 people this year unviable

Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured)  and her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin said they wanted to make the route used by more than 8,000 people this year unviable

Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured)  and her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin said they wanted to make the route used by more than 8,000 people this year unviable

A group of migrants were brought into Dover by Border Force officials on November 23

A group of migrants were brought into Dover by Border Force officials on November 23

A group of migrants were brought into Dover by Border Force officials on November 23

Ms Patel and Mr Darmanin also agreed an enhanced package of surveillance technology, with drones, radar equipment, cameras and optronic binoculars.

It is hoped the equipment will help the French deploy officers to the right places to detect migrants and stop them before they start their journey.

The agreement also includes steps to support migrants into accommodation in France, and measures to increase border security at ports in the north and west of the country.

It builds on measures previously agreed which the Home Office said had seen the proportion of crossings intercepted and stopped rise from 41 per cent last year to 60 per cent in recent weeks.

Ms Patel said the new agreement with France will ‘make a difference’ to the number of migrants crossing the Channel.

Speaking inside the Foreign Office following talks with her French counterpart, she said: ‘We know that the French authorities have stopped over 5,000 migrants from crossing into the United Kingdom, we’ve had hundreds of arrests and that’s because of the joint intelligence and communications that we share between both our authorities.

Ms Patel and Mr Darmanin also agreed an enhanced package of surveillance technology, with drones, radar equipment, cameras and optronic binoculars. Pictured, during the signing

Ms Patel and Mr Darmanin also agreed an enhanced package of surveillance technology, with drones, radar equipment, cameras and optronic binoculars. Pictured, during the signing

Ms Patel and Mr Darmanin also agreed an enhanced package of surveillance technology, with drones, radar equipment, cameras and optronic binoculars. Pictured, during the signing

‘This new package today that I have just signed with my French counterpart, the French interior minister, effectively doubles the number of police on the French beaches, it invests in more technologies and surveillance – more radar technology that support the law enforcement effort – and on top of that we are now sharing in terms of toughening up our border security.’

She said the number of migrants making the crossing had grown exponentially, in part due to good weather this year, and blamed trafficking gangs for ‘facilitating’ dangerous journeys.

She said: ‘We should not lose sight of the fact that illegal migration exists for one fundamental reason: that is because there are criminal gangs – people traffickers – facilitating this trade.’

She added that the cost charged by traffickers has gone down so ‘people are putting their lives at risk’.

Despite deteriorating weather conditions, the UK’s Border Force has continued to deal with migrants making the dangerous trip from northern France.

The number crossing aboard small boats has rocketed this year, with more than 8,000 reaching the UK – compared with 1,835 in 2019, according to data analysed by the PA news agency.

This is despite the Home Secretary’s vow last year to make such journeys an ‘infrequent phenomenon’.

Ms Patel at the Home Office in central London, where she signed a new agreement with her French counterpart

Ms Patel at the Home Office in central London, where she signed a new agreement with her French counterpart

Ms Patel at the Home Office in central London, where she signed a new agreement with her French counterpart

A recent report chronicled nearly 300 border-related deaths in and around the English Channel since 1999.

Written by Mael Galisson, from Gisti, a legal service for asylum seekers in France, it described the evolution of border security in and around the Dover Strait as a ‘history of death’.

It claimed responses to the migrant crisis have become increasingly militarised, forcing people to resort to more dangerous routes.

Bella Sankey, director of humanitarian charity Detention Action, said: ‘It is an extraordinary mark of failure that the Home Secretary is announcing with such fanfare that she is rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

‘No amount of massaging the numbers masks her refusal to take the sensible step of creating a safe and legal route to the UK from northern France, thereby preventing crossings and child deaths.

‘Instead she throws taxpayers’ money away on more of the same measures that stand no chance of having a significant impact on this dangerous state of affairs.’

TIMELINE: Migrant crossings in 2020 

Following Home Secretary Priti Patel’s announcement of a new agreement with French authorities, here is a recap of the biggest developments around migrant crossings in 2020:

February

  • A former head of Border Force says people smugglers are not going to give up, and more migrants are likely to die as a result. 
  • Dover MP Natalie Elphicke calls for a ‘fresh approach’ to the situation after witnesses saw young children being rescued from the Channel.

May

  • The Home Office confirms that migrants arriving in the UK in small boats will face a 14-day compulsory isolation period due to the coronavirus pandemic.

June

  • Four migrants try to cross the English Channel aboard a makeshift raft made from two windsurfing boards that had been lashed together.

July

  • Ms Patel, who promised in 2019 to make migrant crossings an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ by spring 2020, says there is no new target date for such a resolution.
  • The Home Office becomes embroiled in a row over what it called ‘activist lawyers’ who it said were frustrating efforts to send migrants back to France. Lawyers branded it an ‘assault on the rule of law’ and the Home Office is later forced to abandon the video using the phrase.
  • Ms Patel hails a ‘new operational approach’ following a fresh agreement with her French counterpart, on the same day a then-record 180 migrants are intercepted by Border Force.
  • MPs are told the UK Government is locked in a row with France over differing ‘interpretations’ of maritime law in efforts to tackle the crossings.
  • Campaigners suggest ‘cruel’ evictions of migrants from camps in Calais are fuelling attempts to reach the UK by boat.

August

  • The Home Affairs Committee launches a full investigation into the crisis.
  • On a day when at least 235 migrants crossed to the UK, charity Detention Action said the Home Office had ‘lost control and all credibility on this issue’.
  • Speculation arises over whether the Royal Navy would be drafted in to help deal with small boat crossings, described by a Ministry of Defence (MoD) as ‘inappropriate and unnecessary’.
  • The mayor of Calais says that sending the Royal Navy to deal with migrant crossings would be a ‘declaration of maritime war’.
  • RAF planes are authorised to act in a surveillance capacity over the Channel.
  • The Home Secretary appoints former Royal Marine Dan O’Mahoney as Clandestine Channel Threat Commander.
  • Immigration minister Chris Philp promises a ‘new, comprehensive action plan’ after talks with French officials.
  • The plight of unaccompanied migrant children is thrust into the spotlight after it emerges that any new arrivals would be left with Border Force after Kent County Council announced it had reached capacity.
  • The body of a young Sudanese migrant is found on a French beach. French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont said the death was caused by Britain’s refusal to allow asylum claims to be made outside the UK.

September

  • The Home Office announces that migrants are to be housed in military barracks in Kent and Wales while their asylum claims are processed.
  • A group of Syrian migrants deported from the UK were left ‘confused and distressed’ when they ended up alone on the streets of Madrid.
  • Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, suggests French politicians were ‘putting around misconceptions’ about life in the UK for undocumented migrants on small boats.
  • The National Crime Agency (NCA) tells media that the issue of migrant crossings will be ‘here for a while’ despite efforts to combat smugglers.

October

  • Inspectors find that migrants arriving in Kent soaking wet and freezing after crossing the Channel are being processed at what resembles a ‘rubble-strewn building site’.
  • The body of a migrant who died trying to cross the Channel from France to the UK is found on a beach outside Calais.
  • A migrant boat capsizes amid bad weather, leading to the deaths of four members of a Kurdish-Iranian family and several others go missing, including a baby boy.

November

  • A report claims the evolution of border security in and around the English Channel is a ‘history of death’ that has seen nearly 300 people lose their lives.
  • Ms Patel announces a new agreement with French authorities, including that the number of officers patrolling French beaches will double.
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