Faced with the growing number of undocumented migrants crossing the English Channel, the UK is preparing to return the vessels to France, according to British press reports. The policy heightens tension with the French government.
Several UK newspapers claim that Interior Minister Priti Patel has already approved the measure and that the British border force will be trained to adopt new methods to force migrant-loaded vessels to return before they reach the coasts of southern England. .
The strategy, endorsed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, would only be used in “very limited circumstances,” according to The Daily Telegraph. It will be used for large vessels and only when it is considered safe to adopt the measure.
Priti Patel and Boris Johnson during meeting, February 19, 2020 — Photo: Paul Ellis/Pool via Reuters
In order to adopt this policy, Patel requested that the UK’s interpretation of international maritime law be rewritten, according to The Times newspaper.
Discards on the high seas could harm relations between the two countries, which have been experiencing a tense moment since Brexit, said French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He asked the UK on Thursday to “deliver on its commitment”.
“France will not accept any practices contrary to maritime law, nor financial blackmail,” he said on a social network.
The UK government pledged at the end of July to pay France more than €60 million (about R$443 million) in 2021-2022 to finance France’s largest police presence on the coast. But, according to the British press, Patel threatened earlier this week not to transfer the promised funds if no progress was made.
The UK government has reacted by denying it is doing any blackmail, and Johnson’s spokesman has said London “works with France to implement” the agreements.
Patel and Darmanin met on Wednesday in London. After the meeting, the British minister stated that she wanted to obtain results and that the end of these crossings is an “absolute priority”.
But in a letter to Patel dated Monday and released on Thursday, Darmanin warned of the danger to the security of migrants.
“At sea, the safeguarding of human life has priority over considerations of nationality, status and migration policy, in strict compliance with international maritime law,” he said.
Johnson himself said Wednesday in Parliament in Westminster that the UK must use all means in its power to end the “illegal trade” of traffickers crossing the English Channel.
Record of immigrants crossing the English Channel
Recent weeks have seen record arrivals of irregular migrants, spurred on by the good weather on the high seas.
On Monday, 785 immigrants arrived in the UK this way, after August’s record 828 people in just one day, bringing the year’s total to over 13,000, according to the British news agency PA.
London, which has made immigration control a priority after Brexit, wants to make the dangerous crossings of the English Channel impossible and is pressing Paris to redouble its efforts to avoid travel.
“We depend a lot on what the French do,” Johnson admitted. In his letter, Darmanin rejected the British proposal to create a “single joint command center” for French and British forces, considering it to be contrary to French sovereignty and unnecessary. Coordination at the site, according to the French minister, is already “good and effective”.
He highlighted that the increase in the number of immigrants who land in the UK is mainly due to the use of larger vessels by people smugglers, which can transport up to 65 people, against 15 previously.