France announces action plan to stop migrants crossing to Britain

EU border agency announces sharp drop in illegal migrants in 2018

This image provided by the Marine Nationale (French Navy) shows migrants aboard a rubber boat after being intercepted by French authorities, off the port of Calais, northern France, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. French authorities have rescued eight migrants, including two children, whose engine failed as they tried to sneak across the English Channel to Britain. (Marine Nationale via AP)

France said it will increase coastguard patrols and surveillance in ports as part of an action plan to prevent migrants crossing the English Channel to Britain.

These measures are in addition to the joint action plan announced on December 31 by the French and British governments, the French interior ministry said on Friday.

An increase in crossings by asylum-seekers, mostly Iranians, has caused alarm in Britain and put its government under pressure to provide a response.

"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.

Britain sent a navy ship to the Channel on Friday join patrols against attempts by migrants to cross the world's busiest shipping lane.

"HMS Mersey will deploy to the Dover Straits to assist the UK Border Force and French authorities with their response to migrant crossings," British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

The offshore patrol vessel, with a crew of around 45, will fill the gap until two Border Force cutters return from the European Union's Mediterranean migrant crossings mission.


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The French interior ministry's promise of extra patrols and police checks in ports to stop migrants trying to cross the Channel contradicted a government statement earlier on Friday that such measures were not need.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told reporters that "there is no requirement to increase any further the resources there which are working very well and are proving their worth".

He downplayed the severity of what British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has termed a "major incident" by comparing the number of arrivals in Britain to the number of people crossing the Mediterranean by sea.

"We are not talking about the same level at all," Mr Griveaux said.

A total of 504 people attempted to cross the Channel to Britain in 2018, the vast majority in the last two months of the year. Only 276 were successful in reaching British waters, according to the figures from the French interior ministry.

In comparison, 55,756 people crossed the Mediterranean to Spain in 2018, according to the UN refugee agency's figures.

Migrant entries into Spain via the Mediterranean are climbing even though the number of attempts to cross Europe's borders illegally hit a five-year low in 2018, the European Union's border agency said in a report released on Friday.

Frontex said that migrants tried to cross the EU's external borders without authorisation about 150,000 times last year, a 25 per cent drop compared to 2017.

Frontex attributed the drop to a massive decrease in the number of people entering Italy, mostly after setting out from Libya and Algeria. Just over 23,000 unauthorised crossings were recorded on that route in 2018.

The agency said about 57,000 crossings were detected in Spain, double the figure for 2017.

EU nations have been bickering over how to manage migrant arrivals since well over one million people entered in 2015.

Last year, Frontex for the first time began to collect detailed data on the gender and the age of irregular migrants. These showed that women accounted for 18 per cent of all illegal border-crossings on entry from third countries. Nearly one in five of the detected migrants claimed to be under the age of 18, with close to 4,000 unaccompanied minors reported on entry at the EU external borders in 2018, the report said.