The UK government has announced plans to hold its own talks Channel Crisis With European ministers this week it was frozen from a crisis meeting in France.
Government ministers from Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands will meet in Calais on Sunday with officials from the European Union, the European border agency Frontex and the police agency Europol, after 27 people drowned On the channel last Wednesday.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel has been barred from meeting after Prime Minister Boris Johnson released the text of a letter he sent to French President Emmanuel Macron outlining London’s demands for coordinated action on refugees.
Instead, she tweeted on Sunday: “I will be in urgent talks with my European counterparts this week to prevent further tragedies in the Canal.”
There was no immediate comment from the Interior Ministry headed by Patel on the place or timing of the talks.
But Patel used a comment piece in The Sun to make clear the need for joint action and stricter legislation in the UK as she is under pressure in the right-wing media and from her Conservative Party to control the crisis.
“There is still much we can do and I am sorry for not attending a meeting with our European ministerial counterparts today to discuss this pressing issue,” she wrote in the paper.
“We need to be creative in finding new solutions that will have the maximum impact, which is why the Prime Minister and I are ready to discuss proposals with our French counterparts at any time,” Patel said.
“And I know from my discussions with my European partners in recent days and weeks that there is more that can be done. Together, we can dismantle people-smuggling gangs and save lives – but we must act now.”
Combating human smuggling
France is conducting a national organized crime investigation into the sinking, the deadliest immigration incident on the canal. A total of 17 men, seven women, and three minors died.
Iraqi Kurds and at least one Somali were among those on board, though most of them have not yet been publicly identified.
France’s Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, said a vehicle with German markings had been seized in connection with the investigation.
The ministers’ meeting in Calais will focus on smuggling networks that charge 3,000 to 7,000 euros ($3,400 to $7,900) for the journey across the canal.
One of Darmanin’s aide told AFP that the aim of the meeting was to “improve operational cooperation in the fight against human smuggling because these are international networks operating in different European countries.”
Aid groups are calling for more humane and coordinated asylum policies rather than just more police. At camps along the French coast, groups of people from Sudan and Kurds from Iran and Iraq gather in the cold rain, waiting for their chance to cross the canal – unchecked by Wednesday’s death and intense beach patrols.
The number of refugees trying to cross the canal in small boats has jumped this year amid pandemic travel restrictions and after Britain’s exit from the European Union. In general, however, the number is low in Britain compared to other European countries.
The boats must stop
Despite Calais’s disdain, the UK again pressed for action with France as Johnson demanded in his letter to Macron, including joint police patrols on the northern French coast – something that has been dismissed in the past as a violation of French sovereignty.
Most controversially, he also proposed returning all refugees who had arrived in England, which he claimed would save “thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of criminal gangs”.
“These are exactly the kinds of things we need to do,” Health Minister Sajid Javid told Sky News.
Our policy is very clear: These boats must stop. We cannot do this alone. We need the cooperation of the French.
But before the Calais meeting, Britain and France faced criticism escalated For bickering rather than working together.
“Both countries are playing a blame game while children are drowning in our channel,” Lisa Nandy, foreign affairs spokeswoman for Britain’s opposition Labor Party, said on Sky.
“It’s unreasonable,” she said.