Explained: Why France is angry with Britain over migrant crossings

The war of words between France and the UK over migrant crossings seems to be getting increasingly ill-tempered. Here's what each side is complaining about.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin shakes with law enforcement officers during a visit to northern France.
French interior minister Gérald Darmanin visits law enforcement officers in northern France. Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP

What is happening?

A total of more than 1,000 migrants crossed the channel from France to England on Friday and Saturday, just the latest in hundreds of crossing staged by migrants and asylum seekers desperate to reach the UK.

Generally undertaken in highly dangerous conditions in small boats, the crossing represents the final stage of the journey for people who have travelled thousands of miles from countries including Afghanistan and Syria to reach the UK, going through Europe and then crossing by sea to the UK.

They usually aim to cross at the shortest point, from the northern French coastline around Calais towards Dover and the south coast of England, just 33km away.

This is a long-standing issue and over the years France and the UK have tried various different joint approaches to tackling the problem.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

Why the row?

In short, the UK believes that France is not doing enough to stop the crossings, while France says the UK has broken its promise to finance anti-trafficking measures.

Under an agreement reached in July, Britain agreed to finance border security in France to the tune of €62.7 million.

However according to British media reports, British Home Secretary Priti Patel in September threatened to withhold the money in the light of the record numbers of migrants arriving from France.

France, meanwhile, says that the promised money has not been paid.

Patel’s opposite number, France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin, said: “The (British) government has not yet paid what it promised us.

“We call on the British to keep their promise of financing since we are maintaining the border for them”.

What is France doing?

Over the past three months France has stopped 65 percent of attempted crossings by illegal immigrants, up from 50 percent, the interior minister said.

The French side has hired more gendarmes, purchased more technological equipment and thereby “succeeded in greatly reducing migratory pressure”, he added.

“France has held the border for our British friends for over 20 years,” said Darmanin. France is “an ally of Britain” but “not its vassal”, he said.

The northern coastline is just one aspect of border policing for France, which also has to deal with migrant crossings on its Mediterranean coast and over land.

READ ALSO: French police cause misery for migrants in Calais

So what next?

On a practical level, Darmanin said that he had received assurances from the director of the European border surveillance agency Frontex, that it will be prepared by the end of the year to monitor the coastal area, notably through aerial surveillance. 

However the row between France and the UK is also about politics and the post-Brexit fallout.

Darmanin on Saturday called for the start of negotiations for a migration treaty between the European Union and Britain.

“We need to negotiate a treaty, since Mr (Michel) Barnier did not do so when he negotiated Brexit, which binds us on migration issues,” the interior minister said, adding that France will champion the project when it takes over the EU’s rotating presidency in January.

Barnier, who is now running for president in France, was the EU’s Brexit negotiator during the fraught talks on a deal to cover relations with the UK after it left the European Union.

READ ALSO: France warns Britain against ‘blackmail’ over migrant crossings

Member comments

  1. If France can’t secure its own borders perhaps they should ask Border Force UK to do it for them. They certainly need to do something as allowing the present free-for-all makes a mockery of the visa system.

    1. It’d be interesting to watch UK Border Force officers trying to patrol the high Alpine or Pyrenean borders in winter … I wonder how many of them have ever seen a snow chain in their lives …

        1. You were talking about ‘France securing its borders’ with ‘borders’ in the plural. Apart from the UK border, France obviously borders Spain and Italy.

  2. The French are doing there best against what is a mass invasion.
    The problem for the French is that they are part of Shengan area – so migrants enter the EU and walk into France as there are no borders
    The EU cannot secure their borders – once migrants have crossed they can go where they like
    Migrants can claim asylum in the country of their choice – the issue to me is – how can applications be processed without them crossing the water in a dingy.
    Those who have successful applications can then cross safely as a foot passenger on a ferry

    1. It’s plain nonsense to claim they can go where they want. All migrants are in France illegally. Consequently, it’s for the French authorities to arrest them and then either grant asylum or deport them. The migrants don’t want to claim asylum in France because that would stop them applying in Britain and it would seem the French don’t want to force the issue.

  3. Did anyone think about who caused the problems in Syria in the first place? The major culprit is the USA.

  4. I watched French television on the 11.10.20211 and it showed French police watching as migrants were loading a dingy did not do anything. One migrant said the police don’t try to stop them. The French expect to get paid for this. Rosie

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OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.


Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

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