UK, France grapple with surge in migrant Channel crossings

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A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, following a small boat incident in the Channel, in Kent, England, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s interior minister was meeting her French counterpart on Wednesday as the U.K. pressed France to do more to stop a surge of migrants trying to cross the English Channel in small boats.

Dozens of women, men and children, wrapped up in blankets, were brought ashore Wednesday in the southeast England port of Dover by British Border Force boats after being picked up from dinghies in the Channel.

Thousands of migrants have landed on beaches in southeast England in recent days amid calm, summery weather, with 785 arriving on Monday alone, according to Britain’s Home Office. More than 12,000 have made the crossing this year, according to Britain’s Press Association news agency. In 2020, about 8,500 people made the journey, and several died in the attempt.

Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, either by stowing away in trucks or on ferries, or — increasingly since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted international travel — in dinghies and other small boats organized by smugglers.

The British and French governments have worked for years to stop the journeys, without much success. Earlier this year, Britain agreed to give France 54 million pounds ($74 million) to help fund a doubling of the number of police patrolling French beaches.

But Channel crossings continue to soar. According to the French Maritime Prefecture in charge of the Channel, this year through July has seen 556 “operations” involving 12,148 migrants attempting to cross or crossing the Channel by boat. That compares to 868 such events involving 9,551 migrants in all of 2020.

Britain has not yet paid the promised money, and U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel has suggested she could withhold it if France does not do more to stop the smuggling boats from departing. She will talk with French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin during a two-day G-7 interior ministers’ meeting in London that begins Wednesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said stopping the crossings depended largely on the French authorities.

“We depend to a large extent on what the French are doing, but clearly as time goes on and this problem continues, we are going to have to make sure that we use every possible tactic at our disposal to stop what I think is a vile trade and a manipulation of people’s hopes,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Refugee charities said the tough talk from the British government was pointless, and urged the government to make it easier for asylum-seekers to safely come to the U.K.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said Patel should “reach an agreement with her French counterpart to develop a humanitarian visa which would give safe passage to those likely to be recognized as refugees in the U.K.”

French lawmaker Pierre-Henri Dumont, who represents the Calais region of northern France, said authorities there were doing all they could.

“The fact is, we’ve got 300 to 400 kilometers (190 to 250 miles) of shore to monitor every day and every night, and it’s quite impossible to have police officers every 100 meters (330 feet) because of the length of the shore,” he told the BBC.

“We cannot stop all the crossings,” he added. “We need to address the causes of migration.”

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Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this story.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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