The French-UK Agreement on Small Boats Migrants: What Does It Mean?

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In an effort to prevent people from trying to cross the English Channel in tiny boats, which is a frequent cause of tension between the two nations, the interior ministers of France and the United Kingdom have signed an agreement that would increase police patrols on beaches in northern France. The agreement was signed in Paris on Nov. 14, 2022, by British Home Secretary Suella Braverman and French Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin. In exchange for France raising its security presence along the coast by 40%, the British government has agreed to pay France approximately 72.2 million euros ($75 million) in 2022-2023 – nearly 10 million euros ($10.3 million) more than under the terms of an existing agreement. This entails the deployment of 350 more gendarmes and police to patrol the beaches at Calais and Dunkirk, as well as increased use of drones and night vision gear to aid officials in spotting crossings. These will significantly hold the rush of crossing the channel through tiny boats which may also secure more lives and the interior security of both the countries.

The two ministers agreed that their nations would use information obtained from apprehended asylum seekers to help combat smuggling networks. The agreement also includes initiatives to combat crime along migrant routes. However, it made no mention of a specific boat intercept target.

The agreement was reached after a meeting between Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, and Rishi Sunak, the current prime minister of Britain, took place at the COP27 summit in Egypt. In contrast to his predecessors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, Sunak has adopted a more amicable stance. Those two had previously accused France of not doing enough to halt the large number of people who were crossing from France to the UK. Early in 2023, the leaders of France and Great Britain intend to have another bilateral discussion about security. Hence the background of the deal laid down.

However, there has been a significant increase in people trying to cross the English Channel in dinghies and other small ships in recent years as officials crack down on alternatives like stowing away on buses. More than 40,000 passengers have already endured the perilous journey through one of the busiest shipping routes in the world this year, up from 28,000 in all of 2021 and 8,500 in 2020. Numerous people have died over the years, including 27 when a packed smuggling boat sank in November 2021. Besides, Frontex, the agency in charge of guarding the borders and coasts of the European Union, reports that 62,323 migrants were found in the channel in the first 10 months of 2022, a 70% increase from the same time in the previous year. The number depicts both successful and unsuccessful passages.

Therefore, the issue of how to stop the organizations that organize the smuggling trips has long been contentious between France and Britain. In an effort to halt the crossings, the British government has put forth the divisive idea of sending migrants who arrive in small boats on a one-way journey to Rwanda. The British government claims that the plan will deter people from traveling across the Channel and dismantle the business strategy of smuggling organizations. Against such backdrop both the countries ended up in signing the agreement. Markedly, a part of the money will go toward enhancing port security, which will involve the use of police dogs, drones, helicopters, and CCTV to prevent migrant crossings. In order to help those who are unable to cross, money will also be given for reception and removal facilities on the French side of the border.

There are several potential implications that are worth considering.

According to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the agreement would lead to a 40% rise in patrol frequency and the first time that British officials would be immersed in French operations in order to better coordination and the effectiveness of the operations. The agreement, in his words, will “lay the groundwork for even greater cooperation in the months to come.” The UK gets fewer requests for asylum than other European nations like Italy, France, and Germany, but thousands of people from all over the world travel to northern France each year in an effort to cross the English Channel. So, from now on, it can be monitored with effectiveness.

Another possibility is that fewer migrants may try to traverse the English Channel in small boats as a consequence of the agreement. Migrants may find it more challenging to cross the Channel due to heightened patrols and surveillance, as well as initiatives to stop people smugglers. Furthermore, the better treatment of migrants apprehended in the English Channel might discourage some from trying the crossing in the first place.

Second, the deal might enhance how migrants who are detained in the English Channel are handled. It may be possible to reduce the backlog of cases and boost the effectiveness of the asylum system by deploying more money and resources to support the work of the French authorities in identifying and processing migrants.

Third, the deal might have broader effects on how the UK and France interact. The agreement is a major step towards better collaboration and cooperation because the issue of small boat migrants has been a source of tension between the two countries for some time. The broader relationship between the UK and France, which has recently been strained over issues like Brexit and the ongoing migrant crisis, may benefit from this.

There could be complications with the deal, though. One worry is that it might lead to a rise in migrants using riskier and covert routes. Some migrants may turn to other, riskier methods of entrance into the UK if it becomes more difficult for small boats to traverse the Channel, like stowing away on lorries or using underground tunnels. This could raise the number of fatalities and injuries among migrants and put more pressure on the resources available for border security and law enforcement.

Another issue is the possibility that the deal will further marginalize and stigmatize migrants who are detained in the English Channel. Although better circumstances for migrants may be a good thing, there is a chance that the emphasis on interception and processing will further dehumanize and demonize those who are applying for asylum in the UK. This might increase immigration-related conflicts and feed anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK.

As a whole, it is challenging to foresee precisely how the UK-France deal will affect migrants arriving on small boats. The two nations’ cooperation and collaboration will grow as a result of this, but there are also some possible risks and disadvantages that must be carefully considered. In the end, any strategy for combating illegal immigration must be based on a dedication to upholding the rights and respect of everyone. While preventing illegal crossings is crucial, it is also necessary to provide secure and authorized routes for those who are trying to escape harm such as persecution and violence.

It is also important to keep in mind that the problem of migrants arriving on small boats is only one facet of a larger worldwide issue involving migration and displacement. It will take a coordinated and cooperative effort involving not only the UK and France, but also other nations in Europe and beyond, need to address this problem.

The UK-France agreement on migrants arriving in small boats is a significant move that could help those making the attempt to cross the English Channel. However, it’s crucial to approach this matter with a clear head and an awareness of the difficulties at hand, and to make the preservation of human rights and dignity a top priority throughout the procedure.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The geopolitics [Link] and Modern Ghana [Link]