The British government, which has made the fight against immigration a priority since Brexit, intends to pressure France to allow fewer migrants to pass. For its part, Paris warned that no blackmail from the British government would be accepted.
The tone is rising between Paris and London. Faced with record arrivals of migrants illegally crossing the Channel, the United Kingdom threatens France, according to the British press, to turn back the boats. France, for its part, accuses the British of “blackmail”.
The British government, which has made toughening the fight against immigration a priority since Brexit, wants to make these perilous crossings impractical and has long pressured France to step up its efforts to prevent them.
The maritime law in question
According to the PA news agency, more than 14,000 migrants have arrived on the coasts of southern England via this route since the start of the year, well more than in all of last year (more than 8,000 ), and a new wave has been observed in recent days, facilitated by the good weather.
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At the end of a meeting Wednesday in London with his French counterpart Gerald Darmanin, the British Minister of the Interior, Priti Patel, indicated that she wanted to obtain “results”.
According to the British press, she wants the British Border Force to train to turn back the boats before they reach the English coast.
The Times states that Ms Patel has called for the UK’s interpretation of international maritime law to be rewritten in this sense. This strategy, which has been approved by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, would only be used in “very limited circumstances” according to the Telegraph, for larger ships and when the situation is deemed safe.
The minister had already threatened earlier this week, according to the British press, not to pay more than 60 million euros promised to finance the strengthening of the presence of French law enforcement on the coasts.
“No financial blackmail”
“France will not accept any practice contrary to the law of the sea, nor any financial blackmail”, reacted on Twitter Gerald Darmanin. “Britain’s commitment must be kept. I have made this clear to my counterpart.”
For London, such methods of refoulement are necessary to deter the smugglers who endanger many lives. But for Paris, they are contrary to international maritime law and entail risks for the safety of makeshift boats that undertake the crossing.
“At sea, the safeguard of human life takes precedence over considerations of nationality, status and migration policy,” insisted the French minister in a letter sent Monday to Priti Patel.
He also rejected the British proposal to create a “single joint command center” of the French and British forces, deeming it contrary to French sovereignty and unnecessary, because the coordination on the ground is already “good and efficient”.
He stressed that the increase in the number of migrants disembarked in the United Kingdom was mainly explained by the use of smugglers to larger capacity boats, “able to accommodate up to 65 people” against fifteen previously, sometimes carrying infants, elderly or disabled.
The British Conservatives wind up
He also noted “new strategies of diversion” with “bait boats” saturating the intervention systems.
“We depend a lot on what the French do,” Boris Johnson admitted to Parliament on Wednesday, as anger roars in his conservative majority. “But, it is clear that we are going to have to use all possible tactics to end an infamous trade.”
In mid-August, the sinking of a boat caused the death of an Eritrean migrant. Last year, four members of an Iranian Kurdish family died and their 1-year-old child was missing before being found, according to British media, several months later on the Norwegian coast.
“The size of the boats has increased, they are now mostly semi-rigid with on board sometimes twenty, thirty, forty people, sometimes more than fifty”, explained to AFP Philippe Dutrieux, maritime prefect of the Channel and the North Sea, noting the danger in the event of a shipwreck.
“Since 2018, there have been eleven deaths and three missing in all. It is considerable and at the same time, it is a miracle that there are not more, given the dangerousness of the area and the precariousness in which these people leave. ”