UK to fund migrant centres in inland France to deter Channel crossings

Plan is part of Britain’s £54m package aimed at preventing migrants from attempting dangerous sea journey

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent, by lifeboat after crossing the Channel in a small vessel. PA
Powered by automated translation

Asylum reception centres are set to be established on sites away from the northern French coast using British funds in a bid to curtail the flow of migrant boats across the Channel.

The Home Office is negotiating the plan under which French authorities would transport migrants from coastal regions once they are intercepted crossing the waterway.

The aim is to prevent people from attempting to reach Britain illegally, a practice encouraged by people smugglers.

Migrants will be offered the chance to apply for asylum in France or another “safe” country in Europe.

Britain is contributing £54 million ($74.6m) towards trying to resolve the Channel crisis, some of which will fund the accommodation in France.

A Home Office representative said France has a “moral responsibility” to stop migrants making their way to the UK illegally.

“We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings across the Channel, which is why we continue to explore every option available to bring these numbers down," they told The National.

“As part of our joint agreement with France, we are investing in centres dedicated to providing support to migrants and we have been clear that people should claim asylum in France rather than undertake a dangerous and illegally-facilitated journey across the Channel."

The representative said "all countries" shared a "moral responsibility to tackle the issue of illegal migration ... to make the Channel crossings organised by people smugglers unviable".

“Measures we are including in the Nationality and Borders Bill will crack down on this criminality.”

In July, the UK and France issued a joint statement after Boris Johnson’s government agreed to hand over the £54m.

The two sides agreed that the French authorities would provide asylum options to migrants as “alternatives to dangerous crossings”.

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel last week threatened to withdraw the £54m as the number of Channel crossings surged due to mild weather.

She secured legal advice to employ “push back” tactics under which Border Force agents would turn migrant boats around and redirect them to France.

Her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin said the government in Paris would not be “blackmailed” into complying with such tactics.

Border Force agents were this week seen carrying out push back drills off the Kent coast.

Officers on jet skis pursued a boat at high speed and surrounded it.

The suggestion that these tactics would be used prompted an outcry from aid charities and campaigners who fear the plan could put migrants' lives in jeopardy, with some experts warning it could be dangerous.

The legality of the strategy was also called into question, even though ministers insisted Britain would not be breaking international law by seeking to stem illegal crossings.

The Home Office said “a range of safe and legal options for stopping small boats” was being trialled.

“All operational procedures used at sea comply and are delivered in accordance with domestic and international law,” it said.

The latest proposal to deter people from making the perilous journey across the sea comes after about 2,000 migrants arrived in Britain in the past week, a record for the year.

In the week ending September 10, a total of 1,959 people arrived on UK shores making it the busiest week for migrant boats for any seven-day period in 2021, the PA news agency said.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 8:39 AM