Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel urged joint action after France withdrew an invitation to discuss the Chanel refugee crisis.
The United Kingdom’s government has this week announced plans for its talks on the Channel crisis with European ministers as it pulled out of a crisis meeting in France.
Government ministers from Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands will meet in Calais on Sunday with officials from the EU and EU border agency Frontex and the police agency Europol after 27 people drowned in the Channel last Wednesday.
Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel was barred from the meeting after Prime Minister Boris Johnson published the text of a letter sent to French President Emmanuel Macron that laid out London’s demands for concrete action on refugees.
Instead, she tweeted on Sunday: “I will be in urgent conversation with my European counterparts this week to prevent further tragedies across the channel.”
There was no immediate comment from Patel’s home ministry on the location or timing of the talks.
But Patel used a commentary piece in The Sun to call for joint action and tougher UK legislation as she comes under pressure from the right-wing media and her own Conservative Party to get a grip on the crisis.
“There is still much we can do and I regret that there was no meeting with European ministerial counterparts to discuss this important issue today,” she wrote in the paper.
“We need to be creative about finding new solutions that will have the maximum possible 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 our European partners in recent days and weeks that there is much more that can be done. Together we can break smugglers and save lives – but We must act now.”
‘The fight against people-trafficking’
France is conducting a national organized crime investigation into the drowning, the deadliest migration accident on record on the Channel. A total of 17 men, seven women and three minors died.
Iraqi Kurds and at least one Somali were also among those on board, although most are yet to be publicly identified.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darminin said a car with a German tag had been confiscated in connection with the investigation.
The ministers’ meeting in Calais will focus on the smuggling network, which charges 3,000 to 7,000 euros ($3,400 to $7,900) to travel across the Channel.
The aim of the meeting is to “improve operational cooperation in the fight against people trafficking as these are international networks that operate in different European countries,” a colleague of Dormanin told AFP.
Aid groups argue for more humane, coordinated asylum policies, rather than just more police. In camps along the French coast, groups of Sudanese and Kurdish people from Iran and Iraq huddle under freezing rain, waiting for their chance to cross the Channel – unfazed by Wednesday’s deaths and step-by-step beach patrols .
Following pandemic travel restrictions and Brexit, there has been a jump in the number of refugees trying to cross the Channel in small boats this year. Overall, however, the number is lower in the UK than in other European countries.
‘Boats must stop’
Despite the humiliation of Calais, Britain pressed for action with France, as Johnson demanded in his letter to Macron, including joint police patrols along the northern French coast – a past French sovereignty. Something was dismissed as a violation of.
More controversially, he also proposed deporting all refugees arriving in England, which he claimed would save thousands of lives “by fundamentally breaking the business model of criminal gangs”.
“That’s exactly the kind of things we need to do,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.
“Our policy is very clear: these boats must stop. We just can’t do it on our own. We need the cooperation of the French,” he said.
But before the Calais meeting, Britain and France faced increasing criticism for discord rather than working together.
Britain’s opposition Labor Party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Lisa Nandy said on Sky: “Both countries engage in a blame game while children drown in our channel.”
“It’s simply unconscious,” she said.