Eastern Eye (UK)

UK will fund French efforts to stop ‘small boat’ migrant crossings


BRITAIN will pay France around £480 million over three years to try to stop migrants travelling in small boats across the Channel as the two allies last Friday (10) took a major step to end years of bickering in the post-Brexit era.

At a summit designed to rebuild ties, French president Emmanuel Macron greeted British prime minister Rishi Sunak with smiles and mutual back-slapping before they agreed to work more closely together.

The deal will see Britain step up funding to France to allow hundreds more French police to patrol the Channel, and also establish a new detention centre as a further deterrent.

Sunak has made stopping small boats a priority after the number of migrants arriving on the south coast of England soared to more than 45,000 last year, up 500 per cent in the past two years.

He has proposed new legislatio­n to bar those arriving in small boats from claiming asylum, but for this he needs France’s cooperatio­n to intercept the boats and break the people traffickin­g rings behind the flow of arrivals from Afghanista­n, Iran, Syria and other countries.

For the first time, the UK will help fund a detention centre in France to help it cope with the number of people being trafficked across the Channel.

“We don’t need to manage this problem, we need to break it,” said Sunak. “And today, we have gone further than ever before to put an end to this disgusting trade in human life.”

The new funding from the UK this year is already more than double last year’s package, worth over €70m (£61.6m) that increased the number of French police patrolling Channel shores.

As part of the deal, Britain will help fund a detention centre in France while Paris will deploy more French personnel and enhanced technology to patrol its beaches. Officers from both countries will also look to work with countries along the routes favoured by people trafficker­s.

A British official said London was contributi­ng €30 million (£26.4m) over three years for the detention centre. They added that detained migrants would be sent back to their home country if it is safe, or to the last country they transited through if their home country is unsafe.

“We will develop operationa­l needs and will reinforce coordinati­on,” Macron said, adding that to go further and address the issue of whether migrants could be returned to France would require agreement across the whole bloc.

While the number of applicatio­ns for asylum in the UK hit a 20-year high of nearly 75,000 in 2022, it is still below the European Union average. And many EU members are themselves at odds over how to handle migrants.

Sunak is under pressure to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain, and last week unveiled legislatio­n that critics said would make Britain an internatio­nal outlaw on refugee rights.

“There is no one silver bullet to solve this problem. So the legislatio­n we introduced this week is incredibly important, cooperatio­n with the French is important, illegal migration enforcemen­t at home is important,” Sunak said as he travelled to Paris on the Eurostar train.

But activists expressed unease over the plan, with the France director of Human Rights Watch Benedicte Jeannerod saying the sides were persisting with a tactic that “pushes exiles to risk dangerous crossings and subjects them to undignifie­d treatment”.

Both leaders hailed a fresh beginning in relations between the two neighbours, after intense talks in Paris which were also marked by expression­s of unity in their support for Ukraine in fighting the Russian invasion.

It was the first UK-French summit in five years, after Sunak became prime minister in October.

“If we are honest the relationsh­ip between our two countries has had its challenges in recent years,” Sunak said. “Today we have taken cooperatio­n to an unpreceden­ted level.”

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