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Frontex plane to patrol English Channel

November 28, 2021

France called for crisis talks after the recent deaths of 27 people attempting to cross the English Channel. France rescinded the invite to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel after a row broke out late last week.

A group of more than 40 migrants with children get on an inflatable dinghy, as they leave the coast of northern France to cross the English Channel, near Wimereux, France
Thousands hope to make the perilous journey across the English ChannelImage: Gonzalo Fuentes/REUTERS

France concluded talks in the northern city of Calais on Sunday to address the issue of human trafficking gangs, after the recent drowning death of 27 people who were attempting to cross the English Channel in an inflatable boat.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Frontex would deploy a plane to "fly day and night" over English Channel European coasts to spot migrant crossings.

Immigration ministers from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, but not the United Kingdom, attended. 

On Wednesday, a total of 17 men, seven women and three children died. Migrants still hoping to make the journey across the Channel told the AFP news agency that most of the victims were Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.

What measures were agreed?

French, BelgianDutch and German officials agreed to work together to fight the growing menace of migrant smuggling gangs in Calais.

From December 1, the European Union would deploy a plane operated by Frontex that would monitor the shores of France, Belgium and the Netherlands for smuggling networks.

The officials will keep a closer eye on the trade of inflatable boats used to transport desperate migrants fleeing war and poverty in countries like Afghanistan, Sudan and Syria.

"We have to prevent lives being lost. We have to prevent chaos coming to our external borders," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva said.

Darmanin said European countries "want to work with our British friends and allies" despite their absence from the emergency meeting.

"This meeting was not anti-English. It was pro-European," added Darmanin.

Why did France disinvite the UK?

France opted to rescind the invitation it had extended to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in the aftermath of the tragedy, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shared on Twitter a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, which was criticized for deflecting the blame to France for the tragedy.

Macron reacted to the open letter with personal criticism of Johnson, calling him "not serious."

Patel said Sunday her absence at the meeting was "unfortunate." 

Earlier Sunday, Patel met with Dutch Migration Minister Ankie Broekers-Knol and stressed "the need for European partners to work together" by sharing intelligence and police information, according to her office.

An aide to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called the public letter outlining demands of Paris "unacceptable."

Both countries have faced criticism for bickering in the face of human tragedy.

Officials from the EU and EU border agency Frontex, as well as police agency Europol, also took part in Sunday's meeting.

On Saturday, European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas told reporters during a trip to his native Greece that the UK needs to deal with its own migration issues after Brexit. 

"I recall well the main slogan of the referendum campaign is 'we take back control,'" Schinas said. "Since the UK took back control, it's up to them now to find the necessary measures to operationalize the control they took back."

What has the UK proposed on migration?

In the part of the letter perhaps most contentious to Paris, Johnson proposed sending those migrants who cross the Channel back to France in the hopes of destroying the business model for human traffickers.

He also proposed joint police and coast guard patrols on the northern French coast, which France has said is a violation of its sovereignty.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Sunday "it wasn't wrong" of Johnson to disclose the diplomatic note as a public letter instead.

"We all need to be doing what we can to break the business model of these people smugglers. That does mean working closely with our friends, France," Javid said.

"Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We can't just do it on our own. We do need the cooperation of the French," he added. 

Migrants risk their lives to get to the UK

ar/wmr (AFP, AP)