Migration crisis in the English Channel is discussed without the UK

Migration crisis in the English Channel is discussed without the UK

EU representatives are meeting in Calais today to discuss how to stop migrants from crossing the English Channel in small boats. However, the meeting is taking place without British Home Secretary Priti Patel, whose invitation was canceled following a diplomatic scandal with France.

The Guardian notes that France invited representatives from Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Commission to the meeting, which was called last week after 27 people hoping to claim asylum in the UK died making the perilous crossing. After that the French Government seeks greater European cooperation in combating people smuggling.

People seeking to reach the UK often come to France via Belgium to find the shortest crossing point. The UK home secretary, Priti Patel, had been due to attend the meeting but was disinvited after Boris Johnson published his proposals to tackle the issue in a letter to Emmanuel Macron that was released on Twitter before the French president had received it.

Macron said Johnson’s methods were “not serious”. The French government objected to the prime minister’s ideas, including a proposal for all people who cross the Channel to be sent back to France.Relations between France and Britain have hit a low point, with simmering disputes over post-Brexit fishing licences and wider EU-UK relations.

The diplomatic spat came as more details emerge of the people who lost their lives in the Channel last week. They included a 45-year-old woman from the Iraqi Kurdish town of Darbandikhan and her three children, a 22-year-old daughter and two sons aged 16 and seven.

France says it has saved the lives of 7,800 people since the start of the year and arrested 1,500 people smugglers. The French government insists there needs to be a European solution.

Also taking part in the meeting was the EU commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, who invited the directors from the EU border agency, Frontex, and EU police agency, Europol.

EU member states can call on these agencies and the commission for emergency funds, staff and equipment, such as drones, to patrol the border. Without the involvement of the UK - the prefered destination for the people camped in northern France - there are limits to what can be agreed. 

Since Brexit, the UK no longer has the option to return people seeking asylum to the EU. Under the EU’s Dublin system, member states can transfer asylum claimants back to the EU country they arrived in, or onward to another where the person has family connections.