France urges UK to reform asylum system to prevent Channel tragedies | Daily News Byte

France urges UK to reform asylum system to prevent Channel tragedies

 | Daily News Byte

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France has called on Britain to reform its asylum system and sign border security agreements with Belgium and the Netherlands to help prevent people risking their lives crossing the Channel in small boats to reach the UK.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin said such measures would complement a revised agreement signed in November, under which the UK would increase payments to France by around 15 percent to £63 million a year to increase the numbers. 200 to 300 officers patrolling French beaches.

“The agreement we signed is a good one that will allow us to increase patrols and coordinate better to combat people smugglers, but it is incomplete,” he added.

Darmanin was speaking just hours before four people died off the coast of Kent last Wednesday after trying to cross from France to the UK.

In a joint statement following the recent death, the minister and her UK counterpart Suella Braverman said the events underscored the need to intensify cooperation between London and Paris through a framework such as a renewed agreement. The French Interior Ministry declined to comment further.

Darmanin said small boat crossings were being diverted away from the French port of Calais, claiming half were now leaving from Belgium and that a network of smugglers also operated from the Netherlands. “We think it would make sense for the UK to sign agreements with us but not with Belgium and the Netherlands.”

Migrants at an aid distribution point in Dunkirk

Migrants at an aid distribution point in Dunkirk. The number of people arriving in Britain in small boats has risen to more than 40,000 this year © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The issue of how to stem the flow of migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats has become a source of tension between the UK and France.

The number of people arriving in Britain via this route has risen to more than 40,000 this year, the highest since figures began to be collected in 2018. In one incident last year, 27 people drowned during an attempted crossing despite calls to the British and French coastguards for help.

Braverman has previously likened the movement of migrants to an “invasion” – drawing criticism for her choice of language. Last week UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled a five-point plan to tackle the issue.

The problem has been exacerbated by the UK’s exit from the EU as the country is no longer part of the Dublin Regulation, which governs how member states process asylum-seeker applications, and allows some people to be sent back to the first EU country in which they arrived.

Darmanin said a new asylum treaty between Britain and the EU, not just France, is needed to establish legal entry routes and an organized system of returns.

“We would absolutely agree to take back some migrants going to Britain, as long as it’s not just France doing that.”

Such a system would remove some of the incentives for Channel crossings, he argued. “Now people have no other option but to cross on small boats.”

Darmanin, left, and her UK counterpart Suella Braverman, right, meet to sign a revised agreement aimed at stemming the flow of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.

Darmanin, left, and his UK counterpart Suella Braverman, right, met last month to sign a revised agreement aimed at stemming the flow of migrants crossing the Channel © Thomas Samson/Pool/EPA-EFE

Separately, the French government is trying to tighten its own immigration rules to address long-standing issues such as the failure to implement most deportation orders and the dependence of sectors of the economy on illegal migrant labor.

Darmanin and Labor Minister Olivier Dusaupt have been charged with pushing a draft immigration law through parliament starting in January. But they must win over opposition MPs to secure passage after President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance lost its majority in June elections.

“The law is a balancing act that sends a message of welcome to those who respect the Republic and France and goodbye to those who do not,” Darmanin said.

The politically charged issue of immigration in France has become more urgent as Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rallye Nationale party now has a large number of MPs and opinion polls show that nearly three-quarters of French people believe immigration is too high. The October killing of a 12-year-old girl in Paris by a woman who was under a deportation order also sparked public outrage.

Darmanin said the bill would make it easier to deport immigrants by streamlining appeals, targeting serious criminals and eliminating protections, such as a rule that prevents deportation if adults arrive in France before the age of 13.

The proposed law would ease the administrative burden for immigrants who were on the path to “integration and assimilation,” he said. It will also establish a new type of work permit for people working illegally in France in sectors with labor shortages.

While most migrants currently come to join family members, only 13 percent annually come for work purposes. “France does not have enough doctors or workers for our farms and restaurants. . . We need immigration to be based on economic reasons rather than family,” Darmanin said.

However, even such a limited opening to undocumented workers has angered right-wing parties, including the conservative Les Républiques. They argue that the program will attract more illegal immigration.

Darmanin added that he is open to considering a quota to limit the number of work permits issued to receive their support.

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