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UK ‘should change asylum laws’ to stop Channel tragedies, say French

French ministers have criticised the difficulty of claiming asylum in the UK, and also alleged it is too easy to ‘work on the black’ in the country

Refugees are have no choice but to take dangerous, clandestine means to claim asylum in UK, say French ministers Pic: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock

The UK should change its laws to make it easier to claim asylum – and also tighten up on work ‘on the black’ – say French ministers.

Speaking yesterday following a top-level migration ‘crisis meeting’, from which the British were disinvited after the French took offence at a letter tweeted by the UK’s prime minister, two ministers criticised the fact that there is “no legal route” to claim asylum in the UK if you are not on British soil.

It came as they also called for a new treaty with the UK on migration in the wake of last week’s deaths of 27 people attempting to cross. 

President Macron said last week there had been 47,000 attempted Channel crossings to the UK this year, with 7,800 migrants being rescued at sea. Some 1, 552 smugglers had been arrested in northern France and 44 smuggling networks dismantled, he said. 

Asylum claims in the UK were at 37,562 by September, the highest for almost 20 years. 

Franco-British cooperation on migration in the Channel is currently governed by the Le Touquet agreements, which allow for British immigration checks on the French side of the Channel. The French are also expected to cooperate in seeking to prevent migrants leaving for the UK by clandestine means.

However, Europe Minister Clément Beaune told France Inter: “I insist on this point: The British have no legal immigration route [for asylum seekers]. To apply for asylum in the UK you’ve got to go to the UK. So, everyone who wants to apply for asylum there tries to cross, sometimes at risk to their lives, and we see tragedies.

“So that’s what needs to be reformed, with the British.”

Nationals of many (notably, non-EU and non-Commonwealth) countries require a visa to visit the UK, and applying for asylum is not a valid reason. France, by contrast, allows people to apply for a refugee visa at its embassies and consulates around the world.

Mr Beaune added that the British should also seek to change their ‘economic model’, which he said was attracting some people who want to work ‘on the black’.

Some British employers have ‘almost modern slavery’ practices

He said: “Why do people want to go to the UK? Because of the language, because they have family there they want to join, but also because they [the British] have a model of, almost, sometimes, modern slavery, or at least illegal work, that is very pronounced.

“Once you’re in the UK you can more easily find work on the black – often badly paid, but it’s an attraction.

“If the British don’t enforce more checks on working rules that are more respectful and humane, then we’ll always have this issue.”

He said that “everywhere in Europe” there are employers who exploit people who do not have legal immigration papers, but it happens “more often” in the UK than France because there are fewer checks and because of the strong free-market ethos.

UK receives fewer asylum applications than France

Interior Minister Gerald Darminin told Europe 1 the UK’s restrictive asylum system means it usually receives only around 30,000 applications a year compared to 100,000 in France. 

He added that the fact people can work without having to show an identity card in the UK is also a factor in some people seeking to travel there by clandestine means.

He said: “They need to change their legislation and take responsibility. Instead of us being the punching bag of the British public or House of Commons we’d like a serious discussion with our British friends.”

More forces being deployed to police Channel

Mr Darminin said, however, that two extra French helicopters were being deployed to monitor Channel areas and a plane from the European borders agency Frontex would be flying over a zone between France and the Netherlands “night and day” in a bid to deter those seeking to cross.

The deployment of French officers of the Ocriest force, specialised in dealing with clandestine migration, would also be doubled along the French borders, he said.

The focus should be to stop operations by passeurs (people smugglers), the minister said. He recommended a new law be passed with tougher sanctions against people smuggling “in an organised band”. The BBC reports that smugglers are charging people around £3,000 for a place on an overcrowded small boat.

It came as would-be presidential candidate for centre-right Les Républicains Michel Barnier suggested the Le Touquet agreements should be scrapped and France should allow anyone who wants to claim asylum in the UK to go there (by legal means) and make their claim.

Negotiations are ongoing between France, the UK and European Commission over the non-attribution of fishing licences to several dozen French boats deemed not to have presented sufficient evidence of their historic fishing activity in British waters. France states it will call an end, and compensate the fishermen instead, if no “major gesture” has been made by the UK by December 10.

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