U.K., France Agree to Make Migrant Channel Crossings ‘Inviable’

British and French officials will come up with a joint plan to halt migrants from crossing the English Channel to reach the U.K., Boris Johnson’s immigration minister said following talks in Paris.

“We will take action now to make this route inviable, and that’s a commitment that the French government share,” Chris Philp told Sky News after meeting his French counterpart on Tuesday. He declined to comment on how the new strategy will be financed, but said details will follow in the coming days and that the U.K. will “support in all the ways necessary to make it a success.”

Johnson’s government is under pressure to stem the flow of small boats that has seen more than 4,000 migrants arrive on British shores this year so far. According to media reports at the weekend, the U.K. wants France to stop more boats and take them back to port, while French authorities are seeking 30 million pounds ($39 million) to cover costs.

The issue is sensitive for Johnson’s government, which has taken the U.K. out of the European Union on a pledge to regain control over British borders. The prime minister led the pro-Brexit campaign to victory in 2016 in part thanks to public concern over uncontrolled migration from the EU.

Politically Charged

Even though many of the migrants arriving on the British coastline are seeking asylum from countries including Syria, television images of packed boats making the often dangerous journey are still politically charged in Britain.

On Monday, Johnson promised to re-write laws he says make it “very difficult” to deport migrants and asylum seekers ruled to have no right to stay in the U.K. The government also sent a military surveillance aircraft to identify boats attempting the journey so authorities could intercept them.

Johnson pledged to work with the French government to tackle the “cruel and criminal gangs” responsible for transporting migrants across the Channel. The government must also “look at the legal framework that we have that means that when people do get here, it is very, very difficult to then send them away again,” he said.

Under the European Union’s Dublin Convention, refugees are supposed to seek asylum in the first safe nation they enter. But many don’t, instead traveling on to other European destinations. Thousands are camped in Calais at various times, seeking to reach the U.K.

Philp said the government will not wait until the U.K. no longer falls under EU regulations at the end of the year before taking action, calling current migrant numbers crossing the Channel “unacceptable.”

“French authorities are doing a great deal of work,” Philp said. “Policing borders is always a shared responsibility between nation states and the discussions we had today were in that spirit.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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