French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin urged Britain on Monday to open a legal route for asylum seekers in order to prevent people from risking their lives by crossing the English Channel to England in small boats.
“Britain needs to open a legal immigration route” because “at the moment anyone who wants to seek asylum has no choice but to cross the Channel,” Darmanin said in an interview with the RMC / BFM media group.
French officials have already suggested that British immigration officials process asylum claims in northern France from migrants camped around major French coastal ports.
Darmanin convened his fellow immigration ministers from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium on Sunday to discuss the Canal’s migration crisis, four days after an unprecedented accident saw 27 people drowned in the busy sea lane.
They met without Britain, which was excluded after a dispute last week between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Darmanin again blamed Britain for the presence of thousands of migrants in northern France, claiming that the more relaxed work practices on the other side of the Channel were creating a “pull effect” that tempted migrants in hopes of finding job.
Many Calais immigrants also say they want to travel to the UK because they already speak some English or because they have family and friends in the country.
Around 26,000 people have sailed from France to England this year, putting heavy pressure on the UK government, which had pledged to reduce migration after pushing Britain out of the European Union.
Johnson has suggested sending police and border agents to patrol alongside their French counterparts on the beaches of northern France, something that Paris has rejected in the past as a violation of sovereignty.
More controversially, he proposed returning all immigrants who land in England, a move that Johnson says would save “thousands of lives by fundamentally breaking the business model of criminal gangs.”
France received 80,000 asylum applications in 2020 compared to 27,000 in the UK.
Investigations into last Wednesday’s crash are continuing, and French police are not officially giving details about the circumstances or the identities of the victims.
A total of 17 men, seven women and three minors died, and migrants living along the coast told AFP that the dead were mostly Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans.