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Brits enlist French to aid migrant curbs

by MEGAN SPECIA THE NEW YORK TIMES | July 22, 2021 at 3:55 a.m.

LONDON -- Britain has agreed to pay France about $73 million to help clamp down on migrants crossing the English Channel by boat, despite the failure of similar attempts last year to significantly stem the number of arrivals via that route.

The arrangement comes as hundreds of migrants -- a sharp uptick -- arrived on the English coast in small boats this week, according to the Home Office, and as Britain considers introducing the threat of prison sentences for migrants who arrive in that way.

As part of the British-French agreement, reached Tuesday, France will "be able to respond by posting more security forces further up the coast, installing and utilizing the latest surveillance equipment throughout northern France," said the Home Office, which oversees Britain's immigration policies.

The arrivals this week amounted to a high this year for the number of daily crossings by boat, according to local news outlets, although migration experts and rights groups emphasize that overall asylum applications in Britain are down this year and that the increase via the English Channel reflects a shift in routes rather than a surge in migration.

About 430 people arrived in Britain on 14 boats Monday, and another 287 aboard 12 Tuesday, according to the official figures. The Home Office declined to note the total number of people arriving by the route, but The Times of London, which has been tracking the situation, said the number had risen to 8,474 this year.

That is already higher than last year's 8,420 arrivals.

Last year, Britain and France similarly agreed to funding for increased patrols intended to thwart the small-boat arrivals, but the numbers have continued to rise -- a point that lawmakers raised with the British home secretary, Priti Patel, in a parliamentary committee meeting Wednesday.

The day before, the British Parliament approved the Nationality and Borders Bill, which could subject people arriving irregularly by boat to up to four years in prison. The legislation, which will take months to go into effect, was approved on a vote of 366-265, despite being denounced by the opposition Labor Party.

The bill was introduced by Patel this month as the government's latest effort to "fix the broken asylum system," as the Home Office has described it. Opposition politicians and rights groups have denounced the plan as inhumane, divisive and flawed.

The measure makes a distinction between people who arrive in the country through resettlement programs and those who arrive by other means, a separation that the U.N. refugee agency described as a discriminatory two-tier system. The agency also expressed concern that the bill, if implemented without changes, would undermine the "international protection system, not just in the U.K., but globally."

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, a British charity, said the plan would not succeed in stemming arrivals anyway.

"Putting people in jail who have come here because of the terrible things that have happened to them in their lives is really draconian and punitive," he told the BBC Radio 4 show "Today," "and all that it will do is fill up our jails without resolving the issues."

The number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small dinghies has risen as British authorities have clamped down on other forms of entry, including crossing by truck or ferry from mainland Europe.

Yet while boat arrivals were up last year, the overall number of asylum applications fell 24% in the year ending March 2021, compared with a year earlier. That number has continued to drop this year, according to government statistics.

But the high visibility of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats has been a rallying cry for right-wing groups in Britain, where immigration was a central issue in the decision to leave the European Union.

Print Headline: Brits enlist French to aid migrant curbs

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