France says it will increase coastguard patrols of English Channel and ramp up surveillance in ports in bid to tackle migrant crisis
- French interior ministry announced ‘action plan’ amid crackdown on migrants
- Comes as France and Britain are in talks to exploit so-called Dublin regulations
- Under the rules, asylum seekers can be sent back to the EU state they arrived in
- It means anyone who has been in France for three months could be sent back
- Move is the latest response to a surge in people trying to cross the Channel
France is ramping up its coastguard patrols and port surveillance in a bid to crack down on migrants attempting to cross the Channel to Britain.
The French interior ministry announced the ‘action plan’ today and said the new measures will be in addition to a joint plan by the French and British government.
A recent spike in the number of illegal crossings has prompted Britain to clamp down on the issue.
A total of 504 people, the vast majority in the last two months, attempted to cross the Channel to Britain in 2018, with 276 successful reaching the UK.
‘This plan should enable us to end these crossings,’ the French statement said, adding that they were ‘not only illegal but also extremely dangerous’.
‘It’s in our interest, as well as the United Kingdom’s, to do everything to prevent new networks (of people smugglers) developing which would likely attract irregular migrants to our shores again,’ it added.
A rubber dinghy carrying eight migrants off the port of Calais, northern France, broke down on Christmas day as they tried to sneak across the English Channel to Britain
A British navy ship was patrolling the Channel on Friday in addition to other French and British coastguard boats which watch over the 21 miles of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
Talks between the two countries are underway to exploit the so-called Dublin regulations that police asylum claims across Europe.
They say even if someone has been in an EU country for three months, the state they claim asylum in can send them back – potentially meaning Britain can return those who successfully sail across the Channel to France.
It comes after Home Secretary Sajid Javid warned migrants crossing the Channel would be sent straight back to France rather than being allowed to seek asylum in Britain – even if they were picked up in UK waters.
Mr Javid is expected to discuss the move with his French counterpart Christophe Castaner next week.
International law usually allows people to make an asylum claim in Britain when they get here, with a right to have the claim considered in this country.
Channel migrants could sent straight back to France under EU rules even if they are picked up in UK waters under Sajid Javid’s latest plans, it emerged today.
The move to use Dublin would be the latest move to discourage migrants from trying to make the dangerous crossing from France after a surge in numbers.
HMS Mersey has been added to patrols by the Royal Navy, alongside Border Force cutters.
Two cutters – HMC Valiant and HMC Protector – are due to be returning to the Channel from the Mediterranean but are still in Greece, according to the Marine Traffic online shipping tracker.
A Home Office source told the Telegraph sending migrants back to France was a ‘key area of discussion’ with the French.
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They said: ‘We are getting close to an agreement with them.
‘The French are being supportive because it could stop a lot of migrants using France as a means of getting across.
‘It would act as a deterrent.’
Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover, said: ‘The best form of deterrence is for the migrants and traffickers to know there’s no hope of getting into the UK.’
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed on Thursday night the HMS Mersey had been deployed to the channel to assist with policing the waters between Britain and France.
HMS Mersey, a naval patrol vessel, left Portsmouth yesterday and is expected to take up duties off the Kent coast this week
Williamson and Home Secretary Sajid Javid were said to be wrangling on Wednesday over who will foot the £20,000 a day cost of deploying HMS Mersey on patrol.
Mr Javid, touted by some as a possible future Tory leader, has faced days of criticism over what has been seen as a botched response to the crisis.
After the ship’s deployment, Mr Javid said: ‘My focus continues to be on protecting the UK border and preventing loss of life in the Channel. For these reasons, the Government has decided to deploy a navy vessel, HMS Mersey, to support our existing efforts.
‘This will be an interim measure while the two Border Force cutters I have redeployed from abroad make their way back to UK waters.
‘It is vital that we are working on all fronts to tackle this ongoing situation and I am grateful to Border Force and other agencies for the tireless work they have done in response to this activity.’
At least 139 migrants were caught crossing from France to Britain over Christmas, and 239 have reached the UK since November.
The Home Secretary was ridiculed after he classified the crisis as a ‘major incident’ on Friday while remaining on a family safari holiday 6,000 miles away in South Africa.
A Border Force boat farce: Two moored abroad
Two ships involved in tackling the Channel migrant crisis were still in Mediterranean ports last night – more than 48 hours after Home Secretary Sajid Javid ordered their return.
It could take them more than two weeks to start patrolling the Straits of Dover, where at least 139 migrants have been caught crossing over Christmas.
HMC Seeker was photographed yesterday moored in a Gibraltar harbour with no obvious signs of departure preparations, while HMC Protector remained moored in Mytilini harbour on the Greek island of Lesbos last night, according to the ship’s locator beacon.
Both ships are part of Operation Triton, which is tackling the migration flows from North Africa and the Middle East to Italy, Greece and Spain.
In a humiliating U-turn on the migrant crisis, Mr Javid announced on Monday that the cutters would be returning. He said that around 230 migrants tried to cross the Channel in December, although just under half were ‘disrupted’ by the French and never left their waters.
The Home Office refused to say when the ships would reach the English Channel, for ‘operational reasons’.
Only one of the five cutters – specialist boats which are capable of rescuing several migrant boats at the same time – has been working in the Straits of Dover.
As well as deploying cutters, the Home Secretary has promised that ‘covert’ action would be taken on the other side of the Channel to disrupt smuggling rings as part of improved cooperation with French authorities.
Charlie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover and Deal, said: ‘It’s difficult to understand why they might still be in Mediterranean ports and hopefully they will come back to British waters as soon as possible.’
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