In France, there are significant concerns about the UK’s plan to return boats carrying migrants to French waters. The British Coast Guard has been training for months to carry out “transformation measures” at sea. Jean-Luc Dubailly, mayor of the French coastal town of Wimereau, called the plan “a human scandal, truly incredible and inhuman”.
More and more people are fleeing from France to England by water. There were already 13,500 people this year and only 2,000 in 2019. Wimereux, a French coastal town west of Calais, is a popular starting point.
“Today there is an invasion of immigrants on our lands,” Mayor Dabily said. “We are very concerned. Migrant camps have been set up since last weekend. We don’t have enough police or personnel to act against them.”
In addition, the French say that under maritime law they can no longer intervene once the refugees reach the water. This frustrates the British. Because once the boats reach the English side of the Channel, the British Coast Guard is obligated to help them.
The fact that the influx of migrants is now so great is due to a combination of circumstances. It is easiest to cross the canal in the summer, when the weather is good and the water is calm. A few years ago, many immigrants were still trying to reach England by taking trucks. This option is becoming less popular as trucks are subject to increasingly stringent controls.
Most of the migrants are people from the Middle East and Africa, with an increasing number of women and children. They want to go to Great Britain because the family already lives there or because they speak the language well. It is also easier to work illegally in England and the health care system is attractive.
Irritation between the UK and France
The British had already pledged 62.7 million financial aid to France in June to double its coastguard forces there. But since the coast of France is so long, even this multiplier cannot stop all boats.
For this reason, Priti Patel, the British Home Secretary, came up with this new plan yesterday to intercept boats still at sea. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin responded sympathetically to the day. “France will not accept this kind of practice that is inconsistent with maritime law. The United Kingdom must abide by its agreements.”
“The attitude of the British is scandalous,” said Mayor Dibiel. “Just think, those boats in the sea, with the kids. When the tide goes out, it’s still fine, but today there are two or three meters of bottom waves. The sea is moving.”
Only if it’s safe
It remains to be seen whether the British plan can actually be implemented. The Coast Guard is only allowed to intervene if the boat carrying the migrants is not in danger as a result. And even if the operation can be performed safely, the French must also cooperate.
“You can’t just return a boat,” said Lucy Moreton of BIM and BIC. “You have to get approval from the other country. If the French don’t let them in, we can’t bring them back.”
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