France excludes UK from emergency meeting in Calais to resolve migration crisis

European ministers are meeting in the French city to curb the migration drama in the English Channel, which claimed the lives of 27 people on Wednesday
Gérald Darmain

AFP/STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN  -   French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmain

The ministers responsible for immigration from the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France held a summit on Sunday in the French city of Calais to discuss new measures to curb illegal immigration and combat human trafficking. A global challenge on which there is no established framework for joint action, as was exposed on 24 November.

On that day, 27 people lost their lives trying to cross the English Channel, including a pregnant woman and three children, in what was the worst migratory drama in the area since 2019, when the port of Calais and the Eurotunnel were closed. The enclave has become one of the world's busiest migration routes, with people coming mostly from Africa and the Middle East, often aboard fragile boats.

The summit, organised by France, began at 2 p.m. and was also attended by the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, and the European police agency, Europol, and the European border control agency, Frontex. All of this with the priority objective of combating illegal immigration and curbing the activity of the mafias through a shared road map.

AP PHOTO/JAVIER FERGO  -  Migrants sitting on a rubber dinghy after Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish NGO, spotted and rescued them in the Alboran Sea, about 64 kilometres off the Spanish coast, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018

The UK was not represented at the meeting, expressly vetoed by the Elysée, so no British interlocutor travelled to Calais. Initially it was supposed to be Priti Patel, the home secretary, who travelled to France to hold a bilateral meeting with her French counterpart, Gérald Darmain. However, the bridges between London and Paris were blown up.

The migration crisis highlighted the lack of understanding between Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson. The British prime minister issued a public statement in which he demanded that France take charge of the migrants displaced to the British coast, and called for "creative solutions to resolve the crisis". Although the Elysée Palace interpreted this as a veiled criticism of the role of its maritime patrols. A motive that raised eyebrows in Paris.

The UK points to France's lack of forcefulness in curbing the migratory traffic departing from French shores. Meanwhile, the French police issued an internal note in which it criticised the lack of collaboration of the British security forces when it came to sharing information or carrying out joint operations to resolve the migration crisis. The British Secretary of State for Customs and Border Protection, Damian Hinds, who insisted on the cooperative tone of the communiqué, tried to mitigate the criticism.

Macron y Boris Johnson
PHOTO/REUTERS  -  French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the G20 summit in Italy.

Darmain told Patel that he was disappointed by the British Prime Minister's words and Macron described Downing Street's 'modus operandi' as "not very serious". According to data from the French Interior Ministry, so far this year the French security forces have dismantled at least 30 trafficking networks and arrested 1,500 members of these organisations.

The Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, was in favour of keeping London out of the meeting in Calais. For the Greek, the UK must solve its own migration problems, since they left the EU and left behind the EU framework for action. However, the British Home Secretary has opened a dialogue with her Dutch counterpart, Ankie Broekers-Knol, with whom she has discussed the issue.