Macron promises migrant crisis will be focus for EU as UK's Patel hits out at open borders

Migration into EU has long been an issue but is currently focused on the Poland-Belarus border

France will push for action on migrant crises that are growing in the EU and France.

France takes on the rotating EU presidency in six weeks and President Emmanuel Macron said he would focus on migration into the EU and the surge of migrant crossings from France to the UK.

The UK's Home Secretary Priti Patel said overnight that France had become overhwelmed and blamed the lack of borders across the EU for the crisis.

Migration into the EU has long been an issue but it is currently focused on the Polish-Belarusian border, where thousands have been refused entry.

Mr Macron told northern French regional newspaper La Voix du Nord that ministers would act in the coming weeks.

"We must take several actions: prevent the establishment of lasting camps; act to dismantle the smuggling networks; and strengthen work with the countries of origin to prevent these flows," he said.

"I will carry reforms under the French presidency of the EU."

A humanitarian crisis has developed on the Polish-Belarusian border over the past week after months of simmering antagonisms.

Poland and the EU accuse Belarus of stoking the border chaos by sending more and more migrants to the border in retaliation for sanctions imposed against Minsk.

Beyond the differences with Belarus, there are deep divisions in the EU over how best to handle migrants arriving with dreams of a better life.

The EU's eastern nations, the richer northern states where many of the newcomers aspire to live, and the Mediterranean-shore countries where many of them arrive disagree over where to place people since a 2015 crisis exposed shortcomings in the bloc’s system.

European diplomats say finding compromises to those divisions during the French EU presidency is likely to prove even more difficult, given that the usual six-month mandate will be overshadowed by the French presidential elections.

For Mr Macron, appearing to act on migration is important given that conservative and far-right parties will seek to focus part of the debate on the migrant issue, something on which he is considered to be weaker.

With about 22,000 migrants crossing the English Channel so far this year, Mr Macron also said there was a problem between London and Paris.

"We have the British, who oscillate between partnership and provocation. We need to further strengthen collaboration," he said.

"If those who want to join Britain have family there, it must be part of family reunification. If they are smuggled, we have to break this system."

Speaking on Thursday during a visit to Washington DC for talks with her US counterpart, Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel said the EU’s open border system was to blame for the “mass migration crisis” on the continent.

“Let’s not forget that the real problem on illegal migration flows is the EU has no border protections whatsoever – Schengen open borders,” she said.

She said French authorities were clearly overwhelmed by the problem and questioned if the country had enough resources to deal with the huge number of migrants attempting illegal journeys by sea to the UK.

She said the French government had given her assurances that it would employ more technology to monitor its northern beaches.

Gerald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, told Ms Patel his government was changing the law on data protection and privacy to pave the way for authorities to fly drones and other aerial surveillance devices to spot migrants as they set off from the shore in small boats.

The change of legislation will also enable police in France to use automatic number-plate recognition to track vehicles seen unloading boats for migrants.

“I think it’s fair to say they are overwhelmed,” Ms Patel said, referring to the French authorities. “That is a fact.”

“When you think about the flows, what are they doing?” she said.

Ms Patel said the French "are absolutely patrolling the beaches" but with the number of migrants she questioned whether the authorities had enough resources. "We are constantly pressing France on this.”

Updated: November 19th 2021, 8:18 AM
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