French MP calls for 50km exclusion zone around Calais to stop migrant crossings

Call to detain people on French coast after six died in English Channel disaster

A UK Border Force vessel brings a group of people to the English coast on Monday, two days after six people died in a small boat crossing. PA
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A French MP for the northern coast has called for police to ban illegal migrants from approaching the English Channel.

Pierre-Henri Dumont called for “more severe” measures after six people died in the latest fatal attempt to cross the Channel on a small boat.

Mr Dumont, an opposition MP who represents Calais, said deaths were inevitable when illegal migrants were camped near the coast.

He said French authorities should “understand that every illegal migrant” living in tents near the Channel “is a candidate for passage by small boat”.

Any illegal migrant near France's northern tip should be detained in a zone of “zero migrant tolerance” 50km inland from the coast, he said.

“We have to stop access to the coast. As soon as they are in Calais, as soon as they are in Dunkirk … it's too late,” he said in appearances on French radio on Monday.

“You cannot say you’re doing all that is necessary when at the same time you let tents be put up near the railway tracks.”

French police patrol northern beaches under an arrangement in which the UK pays hundreds of millions of euros a year to stem the flow of migrants.

But there have been calls in Britain for France to do more. Conservative MP John Redwood questioned why French police "are they finding it so difficult to see these obviously unsafe and overloaded boats preparing to leave".

Despite the patrols, more than 16,000 people have crossed the Channel this year including 775 last Thursday alone, a record for 2023.

The disaster on Saturday when six people died and dozens more had to be rescued after their boat capsized, was the latest in a series of deadly incidents.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman called it a "stark reminder of how dangerous these crossings are" and "how vitally important it is to disrupt these criminal gangs".

But he said a year-on-year fall in Channel crossings and the arrests of suspected smuggling ringleaders amounted to "tangible results because of the investment we’ve made.”

The alarm was raised early on Saturday when the boat got into difficulty near the French coast. Several warships and lifeboats from both sides of the Channel were involved in a rescue effort.

France is expected to unveil a new immigration law in the coming weeks to speed up deportations while offering some illegal migrants a route to work in the country.

Britain recently passed reforms that provide for people who arrive illegally to be denied residency. Ministers are also fighting legal challenges to their plan to deport failed asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The UK government suffered a separate setback when 39 asylum seekers it was housing on a barge had to be evacuated because of a legionella scare.

The barge, Bibby Stockholm, was meant to house dozens of male asylum seekers to cut the costs of keeping Channel migrants in hotels.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said nobody appeared to have fallen ill, amid accusations that the government brushed off health warnings.

He told Sky News the government would "both maintain safety standards but also reflect the pressure on the taxpayer position".

Updated: August 14, 2023, 1:17 PM