Despite receiving £54million from the UK to combat illegal Channel migration, the French authorities have told Britain they will not stop migrants at sea,
Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont said French vessels would not intervene to bring migrants boats to a standstill, but would instead allow them safe passage unless they specifically asked the French for help. He told reporters:
“If there are small boats of migrants trying to cross the sea and are not asking for help, we are not supposed to intervene. It is not forbidden for people to be at sea. We have no legal basis to intervene when they are in French waters at sea.”
The defiant comments originate from the French interpretation of maritime law, and follows Tuesday’s incident when a French warship escorted a dinghy crammed with 13 migrants and left them with an ITV news crew’s boat.
Former Tory minister Tim Loughton said international maritime lawyers had ruled that the French could intercept migrants’ boats at sea, apprehend them and return them to France. Speaking to the Home Affairs Committee he confirmed Border Force vessels were also legally entitled to use the same tactics on boats when they reached British waters in the Channel and return them to France if the French agreed. The action could be justified on two counts: illegal entry – and paying money to organised trafficking gangs.
Mr Loughton said it was quite clear:
“Yesterday, we had a French military naval vessel escorting one of the boats into British territorial waters, and then tried to hand over the occupants to a boat full of journalists. This is ridiculous and it makes a mockery of our efforts, so giving the French more money, 54million pounds of our money to carry on doing what they’re doing badly – is not going to solve the problem.”