Britain Snubbed as France Hosts Channel Migration Talks
On Sunday, France will host a conference of European ministers to explore ways to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel in dinghies, but Britain will be absent due to the fishing spat.
France will host a conference today, on Sunday, of European ministers to explore ways to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel in dinghies, but Britain will be absent due to the fishing row last week.
Sunday afternoon, ministers from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium will gather in the northern French port of Calais to discuss how to combat people-smuggling gangs that provide boats to migrants attempting to cross the narrow channel.
The talks were called after 27 people died last Wednesday while attempting to cross from France to England in a dinghy that began losing oxygen while at sea in bitterly cold winter temperatures.
The aim of the meeting is "improving operational cooperation in the fight against people-smuggling because these are international networks which operate in different European countries," an aide to French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told AFP.
The primary focus had been on talks between Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel after both countries pledged to work together more closely in the aftermath of the horrific drownings.
This promised cooperation would require Paris and London to overcome years of animosity stemming from the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union, as well as often cold relations between their governments.
Within 48 hours after the tragedy, French President Emmanuel Macron accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being "not serious," in an extraordinarily personal attack that further strained relations.
Johnson's initial reaction, which was viewed as transferring blame onto France, irritated the Élysée, as was his decision to compose a letter to Macron, which he subsequently published in its entirety on his Twitter account before the French leader had seen it.
Patel's invitation to the talks on Sunday was quickly rescinded, with a Darmanin aide describing Johnson's public letter as "unacceptable."
There are limits to what can be accomplished without the participation of the United Kingdom, which is the destination country for thousands of migrants gathered in northern France.
The invitation to France's other northern neighbors underscores concerns about how people-smuggling gangs can plan their operations using Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany as bases.
Many migrants are thought to travel from Belgium to launch sites in northern France, while inflatables and life jackets may be purchased without arousing suspicion in other countries such as the Netherlands and Germany.
According to French officials, one of the five individuals arrested in connection with the collision on Wednesday was driving a car with German registration.
"Let's not forget that the real problem on illegal migration flows is the EU has no border protections whatsoever," Patel said in the middle of November, referring to the EU's border-free Schengen zone.
While France and the UK agree on the need to combat people smugglers more effectively, they disagree on how to prevent people from traveling to northern France to seek asylum in the UK.
Johnson called for British police and border officials to patrol alongside their French colleagues along the coast in his public letter to Macron, something that had previously been denied as intruding on French sovereignty.
More controversially, he also proposed sending back all migrants who land in England, which he claimed would save "thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of the criminal gangs".
The European Commission's vice president urged Britain on Saturday to address its migrant problems after the country voted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum.
"I recall well the main slogan of the referendum campaign is 'we take back control'," Margaritis Schinas told reporters during a trip to Greece.
"Since the UK took back to control it's up to them now to find the necessary measures to operationalise the control they took back."
France has proposed that Britain process asylum applications in northern France.
Mourning over the victims of smuggling
The investigation into last week's catastrophe is still ongoing, with French authorities refusing to provide any formal information regarding the circumstances or the identity of the fatalities.
A total of 17 men, seven women, and three minors died.
Maryam Nuri Hama Amin, a lady in her twenties from Soran, a town in Iraq's autonomous province of Kurdistan, has been named as one of the victims.
In an interview with AFP at her family home, her father Nuri Hama Amin said she was flying to England to join her fiancee and seek "a better life."
"We have no information on the smugglers," he added. "Their promises turned out to be lies."