Ministers have stressed there is “no silver bullet” to solving the Channel migrant crisis, but the deaths of at least 27 on Wednesday have provided a deadly impetus to Anglo-French efforts to find a solution.
Britain has been pushing for British Border Force and police officers to join French beach patrols, but until now this has been resisted by France partly due to concerns that it threatens their sovereignty.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, also confirmed in the Commons this week that she has been having talks with her French counterpart, Gerald Darmanin, the interior minister, about joint Anglo-French sea patrols that could intercept the migrants and return them to France.
It was not surprising therefore that in his first public statement on the tragedy, the Prime Minister on Wednesday urged the French to consider British boots on French ground as part of the solution.
“Our offer is to increase our support, but also to work together with our partners on the beaches concerned, on the launching grounds for these boats. That's something I hope will be acceptable now in view of what has happened,” he said.
“We have had difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves. I understand the difficulties that countries face, but we want to do more together.”
His talks with President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday confirmed that, from Downing Street’s perspective, negotiations are ongoing, as both leaders agreed it was “vital to keep all options on the table to stop these lethal crossings and break the business model of the criminal gangs behind them”.
The possible Anglo-French solutions to the crisis include:
1. Putting British forces on French beaches
Joint operations are not without precedent. Britain and France last year set up an intelligence-sharing unit to crack down on the smugglers.
Border Force officers are already stationed in France just as French officers are in England, under “juxtaposed” border controls agreed in a 2013 deal for checks to be done before people leave each country rather than on arrival. Thousands of smuggling attempts have been stopped as a result.
Britain has already committed £54 million in its latest tranche of funds for extra patrols and surveillance on the beaches. While the French announced an additional £9 million this week for 100 vehicles and high-speed boats, night vision, thermal imaging and surveillance equipment.
But British officials believe the French police are still being “overwhelmed” by the numbers of migrants and increasing violence from the smuggling gangs. That impression has not been helped by pictures of police officers standing by apparently doing nothing as migrants enter the Channel.
This is why Mr Johnson and Ms Patel are keen to bolster forces with British officers to help cover a coastline that stretches some 200 kilometres.
There was a mixed response in France on Thursday to the offer. Pierre-Henri Dumont, the MP for Calais, rejected the Prime Minister's proposal as a “crazy solution” that “will not change anything” along the vast shoreline because it would require thousands of officers to police it.
“There is also the question of sovereignty. I am not sure the British people would accept the other way round if the French army was patrolling the British shore,” he said.
But Bruno Bonnell, an MP representing President Macron's En Marche! party, said the proposal could “probably help the situation”, as long as it was not a political gesture but a genuine “common operation”.
2. Joint Anglo-French sea patrols
Tony Smith, the former director general of Border Force, has been a strong advocate of joint Anglo-French sea patrols under an agreement with France that would see migrants intercepted at sea and returned to the “safe” country from which they had come, most likely France.
Such joint patrols proved effective on the US-Canada border where Mr Smith worked with the Canadian immigration service in the early 2000s.
However, the sticking point has been the French interpretation of maritime law that vessels can only intervene when asked to do so by a boat in distress, rather than, as the British argue, they can deliberately intervene in order to turn them back.
This has been a source of friction between the UK and France, with criticism that the French have intercepted fewer than half the attempted crossings this year. However, Mr Darmanin has committed to an interception rate of 100 per cent in return for the £54 million to make the crossing “unviable”.
3. Returning migrants to France and other countries
Britain has sought return agreements with the EU as a bloc, as well as bilateral deals with individual EU states like France, Belgium and Germany. These would see migrants who come to the UK illegally returned to the country from which they came.
If all migrants who cross the Channel are immediately returned to France, then it would make their dangerous journey pointless. By cutting off the demand for the crossings it would break the people smugglers’ business model.
However, Britain has so far only managed to strike bilateral removal agreements with India, Pakistan and Albania, with none, as yet, in the offing from EU countries and in particular France, which accounts for 60 per cent of migrants reaching the UK.
Even when the UK was able to return people to EU countries through the Dublin regulation before Brexit, only around a quarter of asylum cases resulted in the UK submitting a request to return the applicant to another EU country.
4. Pushing back migrants at sea
Ms Patel has sanctioned an Australian-style “turnback” policy that gives Border Force officers the power to intercept migrant boats in the Channel and redirect them back towards France.
Australia's introduction of the policy in 2013 was credited with reducing the number of asylum seeker arriving by sea from 20,000 to 160 in a year and none in the second year.
However, the policy – where Border Force officers on three jetskis nudge a boat back into French waters to be returned to France – risks breaching maritime law and could leave those involved open to criminal prosecution if there were deaths.
Even ministers accept it will rarely be used and only when safe and at the discretion of the commanding Border Force officer. The French, whose cooperation will be required to pick up the migrants, also claim it breaches maritime law.
As a result, Border Force experts suggest that it will be rarely, if ever, deployed. Although Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, insisted on Thursday it remained part of the Government’s armoury.
“What we've said is that any maritime tactics would be deployed appropriately, bearing in mind the safety situation, and that would be determined by commanders on the ground,” he said.
5. Making Channel migrants' claims inadmissible
The Government introduced post-Brexit rules that barred people who travelled through “safe” third countries, including France, from claiming asylum.
Home Office immigration officials have six months to show that migrants travelled through a safe country and prove their claims invalid.
Of the 4,561 Channel migrants flagged as inadmissible in the first six months of the rules, only seven were judged by officials to be “inadmissible” due to lack of evidence. Not one had been removed by June.
The official borders watchdog warned last week that instead of speeding up the removal of migrants, the policy was actually adding to the backlog of asylum seekers.
6. Reforming the asylum system to make the UK less attractive
The Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill aims to deter people from coming to the UK by making the prospect of life in the UK for those who enter illegally as unattractive as possible.
The Bill will not become law until next year, so unlike the first five proposals, it is not a quick fix.
The legislation will introduce a two-tiered asylum system, where for the first time the way in which a claimant entered the country will determine the success or failure of their application to stay in the UK.
Asylum seekers who arrive illegally will only be given the opportunity to claim temporary status of up to 30 months in the UK, while those who come via legal refugee schemes will be offered permanent leave to remain immediately on arrival in Britain.
The Bill aims to offer migrants fleeing conflict zones a chance to apply for asylum from outside Europe, thus reducing the “pull” factors that drive them to cross the Mediterranean and then the Channel.
The move is, however, expected to face legal challenges over claims it breaches the 1951 Refugee Convention, which states that the status of an asylum claim should not be dependent on the mode of entry into a country.
There are also concerns about whether and how migrants from conflict zones could apply when they may have no choice but to flee violence.
7. Reception centres for asylum seekers
Ms Patel has launched a bidding process for companies to build reception centres in the UK to house at least 8,000 migrants and asylum seekers – a proposal again being enacted through the Nationalities and Borders Bill.
These large-scale government-run accommodation centres will replace housing asylum seekers in accommodation dispersed across the community, such as in hotels and apartments – and are designed to make it less attractive for migrants to come to the UK.
They are expected to have a similar regime as those constructed by the Greeks, where migrants can leave only if they use their fingerprints to pass through steel-turnstile checkpoints so that the authorities know exactly where they are at any time.
There are strict rules including an 8pm curfew, with all counted in at night and a high-security wing for failed asylum seekers being prepared for deportation.
8. Speeding up asylum applications
One of the biggest pull factors for migrants is the knowledge that even if their asylum application is rejected, they will spend years in the UK. There are more than 15,000 failed asylum seekers who have been in the UK for at least seven years.
Gerald Darmanin, the French interior minister, on Thursday said the problems were compounded by the ease with which migrants could get work on the black market in the UK, such that, he said, it was billed as “El Dorado England” by the Channel migrant smugglers.
To answer these criticisms, Ms Patel’s Bill proposes a one-stop shop where asylum seekers will have to lodge up front at the start of the process all their evidence backing their asylum application and potential grounds for appealing a rejected claim.
It is seen by Ms Patel as one of the most significant reforms and is designed to end the “merry go round” of appeals which mean that applications take on average more than 500 days to process, notwithstanding the delays and problems that then follow in seeking to remove them from the UK.
9. Offshore processing centres for migrants
Offshore processing centres which are also enacted by the Nationalities and Borders Bill are “still on the table”, according to ministers, despite being rebuffed last week by Albania after ministers opened preliminary talks for the Balkan state to host them.
Channel migrants could be flown within seven days of their arrival in the UK to be held in the centres while their asylum application is processed. They would not return to the UK if rejected. It is seen by many Tory MPs as a critical reform to negate the “pull” factor of coming to Britain.
The downsides are the cost – estimated at as much as £100,000 for a migrant sent to Albania for example – and finding countries willing to take Britain’s asylum seekers.
10. France’s proposal for asylum reception centres in France
Pierre-Henri Dumont, the MP for Calais, has proposed that reception centres – situated miles from the northern French coast – should be used to house the migrants from which they could make asylum applications, including to the UK. Their removal to the centres would be compulsory.
This, he argues, would remove the need for migrants to make the perilous Channel crossing. If rejected, they would be deported to their home country. If accepted, they would cross to the UK. “They would have a safe route to the UK if that application was agreed,” he said.
Britain is, however, sceptical and is understood to have rejected the proposal because of concerns that the centres would still act as a draw for migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe.
Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, said: “We don’t believe in encouraging people to make journeys across the Mediterranean which is equally dangerous. It is not appropriate. We want safe and legal routes from the regions of conflict themselves.”
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( Information from telegraph.co.uk was used in this report. To Read More, click here )