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Why Is France Reluctant to Stop Channel Crossings to UK?



The ongoing issue of illegal channel crossings from France to the UK has sparked heated debates on both sides of the English Channel. While UK officials have repeatedly called upon France to take stronger measures to curb these crossings, France's response has been less decisive. Recent reports shed light on the reasons why France seems hesitant to put a stop to this chaotic and dangerous situation in the waters between the two countries.


Fears of Legal Action

One of the primary reasons France has been cautious in its approach to stopping illegal migrant boats heading to the UK is the fear of legal action against its police officers. UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick has urged French President Emmanuel Macron to follow Belgium's example in taking "decisive" action to halt these crossings. Belgium's aggressive stance has resulted in a significant reduction in attempted Channel crossings from its shores.


However, French police are often reluctant to intervene when they encounter vessels carrying migrants in their waters unless the passengers are in immediate distress and likely to cooperate. This reluctance stems from a notice issued by France's Departmental Board of the National Police in August of the previous year. This notice essentially prohibits officers from taking action against boats already in the water. It was issued following a complaint filed by the human rights campaign group Utopia 56, which accused French police of endangering human life.


Utopia 56's complaint included allegations that in June 2022, French officers had slashed an overloaded dinghy that was just heading toward Britain in an attempt to prevent it from departing. Fears of legal consequences have left Paris apprehensive about intercepting migrants once they have already left France's coasts. French authorities are concerned that a police presence may increase the risk of small boats capsizing as they attempt to evade law enforcement.


Comparative Statistics

Despite the UK's continued pressure on France to address the issue, the number of migrant boats prevented from crossing the Channel by French authorities has only seen a marginal decrease. Conservative MP Tim Loughton notes that the percentage of prevented crossings decreased slightly from 45.8% to 45.2%, indicating that more needs to be done.


In contrast, Belgium has successfully stopped approximately 90% of all attempted crossings from its shores, showcasing the effectiveness of a more robust approach. The difference in these statistics highlights the potential benefits of a more proactive stance on the part of French authorities.


The urgency of addressing this issue becomes even more apparent when examining recent data. On September 2, 2023, UK officials recorded a record-breaking 872 people crossing the Channel aboard 15 vessels. This brought the total number of arrivals for the year to over 20,900.


As the situation continues to evolve, it remains a challenging issue that requires collaboration and coordinated efforts between both nations to find a sustainable solution that prioritizes safety and security for all involved.


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