- BBC News World
The English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and is now also the center of disputes between France and the UK in the post-Brexit era.
Two fronts mark the increase in tensions between the two countries. On the one hand, the unprecedented increase in the number of migrants crossing this route from Calais, in France, to the British coast, which this week registered a mortal record.
The diplomatic dispute escalated this Friday when France canceled a meeting between the French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, and his British counterpart, Priti Patel, which was to take place this Sunday in Calais to address the migration crisis.
Added to this is the dispute over fishing licenses in the Canal, a direct consequence of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
This Friday, French fishermen launched an operation to block ports and the Channel Tunnel to demand a solution to the conflict.
The migration crisis had been straining the relationship between France and the United Kingdom for weeks, with both countries exchanging accusations and holding each other responsible for the unprecedented increase in the number of crossings.
The situation worsened this week, when 27 migrants lost their lives when their inflatable boat wrecked near Calais while trying to reach the British coast, the largest loss of life in the canal since data collection began in 2014.
Following this incident, Prime Minister Boris Johnson posted a letter to France on Twitter proposing that migrants crossing the English Channel are returned to that country.
In the letter, Johnson details five measures that he would like to see to “advance faster and faster” in this crisis and prevent a repeat of a tragedy like the one on Wednesday.
Among them, he asks French President Emmanuel Macron “joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches, the deployment of technology and patrols in each other’s waters and a bilateral agreement with France. about “returns”, as well as negotiations to establish the returns agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
France’s reaction to Johnson’s public appeal has been energetic. At a press conference on Friday, Macron criticized the UK’s handling of the crisis.
“The correct answer is to have serious cooperation, stop these movements, dismantle the trafficking networks and prevent these men and women from reaching our soil, because by then it is too late.”
He also attacked Johnson for posting the letter on Twitter: “I spoke to Prime Minister Johnson two days ago in a serious way.”
“Between leaders we do not communicate about these issues through tweets and letters that we make public.”
And a French government spokesman said the letter “did not correspond at all” to the discussions Johnson and Macron had had on Wednesday. “We are fed up with the double talk”added.
Britain insists the prime minister’s letter was sincere, intended to be constructive, not combative.
For the French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, the letter “is unacceptable and contrary to our discussions between partners.”
“As a result, Priti Patel is no longer invited.“to the talks on Sunday in Calais that Macron organized to try to deal with the recent increase in migrant crossings through the English Channel, and which will be attended – in addition to France – by Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the European Comission.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said France should re-invite Patel. “No nation can tackle this alone. I hope the French will reconsider (not invite Patel),” he told BBC Breakfast.
“It is in our interest. It is in their interest. It is certainly in the interest of the people who are being trafficked to the UK, with these tragic scenes that we are seeing: people losing their lives.”
How big is the immigration crisis
A record number of migrants are crossing from France to the UK.
Britain signed a deal in July to deliver € 62.7 million (more than $ 70 million) to France during 2021-22 to help secure borders, but the number of people crossing has continued to rise.
More of 25,700 people have made the dangerous journey this year to the UK in small boats. The figure is more than three times the total for 2020.
For years, human traffickers They have sent migrants to the UK in trucks, but security at the Port of Calais, where UK border controls are located, has been tightened.
This means more attempts are being made by sea, according to Tony Smith, the former director general of the British Border Force.
Smith assures that the covid pandemic has also played a role as the number of trucks crossing into the UK has been reduced: “Human smugglers have changed their tactics and now they have embraced this relatively new phenomenon of putting people in small boats and bringing them that way “.
In a note published by BBC Mundo last September, Peter Walsh, a researcher at the Migration Observatory of the University of Oxford, said that the main reason for the rise in migrants in the channel is the geopolitics.
“Most of the migrants come from Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Sudan, countries in conflict where there are wars and political persecution,” the expert who analyzes United Nations data explained at the time.
Besides that language plays an important factor in explaining why migrants want to move from France to the United Kingdom, the few studies that exist suggest that migrants family ties they are the main reason immigrants want to make the crossing.
“They have a connection to the UK, they speak some English, they have family, they have friends and people in their networks. They want to come stay and rebuild their lives“Enver Solomon, executive director of the Refugee Council, a British group that works with refugees and asylum seekers, told the BBC. He called for measures to be taken to help migrants.
Asylum claims made in the UK have risen this year to the highest level in almost 20 years, with 37.562 Until September.
Last year, Germany had the highest number of asylum seekers in the EU (122,015), while France had 93,475 applicants.
In the same period, the UK received the fifth highest number of applications (36,041) compared to EU countries (around 7% of the total), according to data from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The question of fishing
In parallel to the migration crisis, France and the United Kingdom have been at odds for months over the number of licenses that should be granted to French fishermen as part of the post-Brexit agreement to be able to fish in the waters of the Jersey.
Under the agreement with the EU, French boat operators must show a history of fishing in the area to receive a license for the waters of Jersey, a small British dependency 22 kilometers from Normandy.
But there are disagreements about whathe evidence is needed.
Large trawlers collect this information on a routine basis.
However, smaller boats coming from French ports to fish around the Channel Islands may have a more difficult time providing the necessary proof.
Tensions flared last month after Britain and Jersey Denied fishing permits to several French boats.
France threatened to prevent British trawlers from landing their catch in French ports unless more permits are issued covering UK waters. But after weeks of discussions, no agreement has been reached.
The british government insists that the vast majority of requests have been granted of licenses.
“We don’t want handouts, we just want to get our licenses back. The UK must respect the post-Brexit agreement. There are too many fishermen who are still out of work,” Gérard Romiti, president of the French National Fisheries Committee, said at a press conference on Thursday.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.