Last week, we saw very starkly the desperate measures some migrants will take to try to cross the 20-mile stretch of sea between our two countries. As the extra security fencing the British Government has provided for the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles goes up, would-be migrants have been taking ever more dangerous risks – resulting in serious injuries and, tragically, deaths.
We are both clear: tackling this situation is the top priority for the UK and French governments. We are committed and determined to solve this, and to solve it together.
While the situation last week was particularly acute, the pressures in Calais are not new. We have been working closely together for many months as the number of people crossing the Mediterranean has grown. The joint declaration that we agreed in September last year included £12 million from Britain to bolster the physical security in the Nord-Pas-de- Calais, alongside a further £1.4 million to create a secure waiting area for lorries. Last week, we agreed a further £7 million of funding towards increasing security at the Channel Tunnel railhead at Coquelles.
The French government is also providing substantial resources. It has deployed significant police reinforcements in Calais, with around 550 officers on the ground, to maintain law and order and to ensure the security of goods and people.
We pay tribute to those police and border officials on both sides of the Channel who are working long hours in difficult situations to keep our borders running safely and securely.
Our joint efforts are working. An extra 120 police officers on the ground during the previous week saw the number of migrants gaining access to the tunnel fall. The first stage of the extra fencing at Coquelles will be completed this weekend, with the remainder – provided by Eurotunnel – by the end of this week.
The Prime Minister announced on Friday that Britain will fund extra fencing to protect the approach to Coquelles, and more detection dogs to search vehicles. This sends a clear message: our border is secure, and there is no easy way into the UK.
The French government, with the support of many NGOs, is providing humanitarian aid and support to the migrants in Calais. With financial contributions from the EU, a day centre has been set up, providing bathroom facilities and 2,000 meals a day. The French administration has also helped more than 900 migrants to apply for asylum in France, and provided them with housing.
What we are currently facing is a global migration crisis. This situation cannot be seen as an issue just for our two countries. It is a priority at both a European and international level. Many of those in Calais and attempting to cross the Channel have made their way there through Italy, Greece or other countries. That is why we are pushing other member states – and the whole of the EU – to address this problem at root.
The nations of Europe will always provide protection for those genuinely fleeing conflict or persecution. However, we must break the link between crossing the Mediterranean and achieving settlement in Europe for economic reasons. Together, we are currently returning 200 migrants every month who have no right to asylum.
We are also working to ensure that people in the horn of Africa understand the stark realities of a dangerous journey that will result in their being returned to their own countries.
We must be relentless in our pursuit of those callous criminals who are encouraging vulnerable people to make this journey in the first place. That is why we are also working closely together to tackle the criminal gangs that are making a profit out of people’s misery. Both the UK and France are playing a leading role in this through operations in the Mediterranean and better intelligence- sharing and increased collaboration between law-enforcement agencies across Europe. Seventeen gangs have been smashed since the beginning of this year, thanks to our joint work.
Ultimately, the long-term answer to this problem lies in reducing the number of migrants who are crossing into Europe from Africa. Many see Europe, and particularly Britain, as somewhere that offers the prospect of financial gain. This is not the case – our streets are not paved with gold.
We must help African countries to develop economic and social opportunities so that people want to stay. We must work with those countries to fight illegal migration and allow people to be returned to their home countries more easily. This means a better targeting of development aid and increased investment.
The Valletta summit in November will address these issues and help to find a way forward.
There are no easy solutions – and it is not for the UK and France to solve these problems alone. But the strong relationship we have forged and the leadership we are providing in Europe are key assets as we continue working to find a resolution.
Theresa May is the Home Secretary, and Bernard Cazeneuve is France’s minister of the interior.