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As Britain Deploys Navy, Brexit Complicates Boat Migrant Crisis

LONDON – British and French ministers meet Tuesday in Paris for urgent talks on the growing migrant ..

LONDON – British and French ministers meet Tuesday in Paris for urgent talks on the growing migrant crisis in the English Channel. So far this year, more than 4,000 migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have attempted the crossing from France to Britain in overcrowded dinghies or makeshift boats, including around 700 in the past week.

It is a voyage of some 35 kilometers across the busiest shipping lane in the world. Among the migrants are hundreds of unaccompanied children.

The surge in arrivals is creating political waves. Speaking to reporters in London Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised action, but with little detail.

“We need to stop them, working with the French, we need to stop them from getting across the channel. But No. 2, we need to look at the legal framework that we have, all the panoply of laws that an illegal immigrant has at his or her disposal that allow them to stay here,” Johnson said.

Immigration Minister Chris Philp was traveling to Paris for talks Tuesday, alongside Britains new so-called “Clandestine Channel Threat Commander,” Dan O’Mahoney, for talks with French counterparts on how to reduce the number of migrant crossings. One plan under discussion could see Britain paying more for land patrols along the northern French coastline.

In recent days Britain has deployed naval vessels and spotter aircraft to the English Channel. Former Royal Navy officer Chris Parry says it is right to involve Britains armed forces. “It’s quite clear that we do not have a grip on our maritime border. It’s unsafe, it’s insecure and there’s illegal operations taking place on both sides of the channel and also in the channel itself,” Parry told Britains Sky News Monday.

It is not clear what role the naval and air force assets will play. Colin Yeo, an immigration lawyer and author of the book Welcome to Britain: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System, told VOA in an interview Monday that forcibly pushing migrant boats away from British waters would break numerous maritime and international laws.

“You cant just push people back and stop them from going any further and hope that they dont drown, because basically some people are going to drown and thats just completely unacceptable. You cant tow them into French waters without the consent of the French,” Yeo said.

Border Force officers escort a group of men thought to be migrants to a waiting bus in the port city of Dover, England, Aug. 8, 2020.

Border Force officers escort a group of men thought to be migrants to a waiting bus in the port city of Dover, England, Aug. 8, 2020.

Under international maritime law, all vessels are obliged to aid those in distress at sea. Deploying the navy could have unintended consequences, says Yeo.

“There is a humanitarian argument for making sure that people are safe in that area and taking them back to shore. But if it were the British who were doing that, it would be back to a British shore and that is exactly what the British government is seeking to avoid.”

Under European Union law known as the Dublin Regulation, the first EU country where a migrant arrives is meant to process any asylum request. Britain has deported hundreds of migrants to its European neighbors in recent years under the arrangement. When Britain exits the Brexit transition period at the end of the year, however, that law no longer applies.

“You cannot just send people back to a country that wont take them back,” says Yeo. “I think what the U.K. government would ideally like is to have some sort of arrangement where if somebody is intercepted in the English Channel, the assumption would be that theyve come from France and therefore they are landed in France. But we dont have that agreement at the moment, and frankly it doesnt seem that likely that we would enter into such an agreement with the French because it doesnt necessarily appear to be in French interests.”

Activists say the surge in arrivals shows the desperation of the migrants and Britain should be doing more to help the global refugee crisis.

“Clearly, the numbers are higher this year, but I think as a country, as a government, every time we see incidents like this, you’ve got two kind of choices to make,” Stephen Hale, chief executive of charity group Refugee Action, told the Reuters news agency Tuesday.

“The first is to say this is serious for the people concerned, but it’s a modest movement by international standards, and it’s certainly something that Britain can cope with. You know, it’s something we can step up and find solutions to in the interests of our country and in the interests of these people. Or we can kind of go the other way and really send the message that these numbers are huge. Its not something we can manage,” Hale said.

The British government says the route must be shut down to prevent tragedy at sea.

Analysts say that politically, the images of migrant boats arriving at the foot of Britains iconic white cliffs of Dover are clearly potent for a government that pledged to take back control of its borders after Brexit.

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.


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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".


Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42


This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.


Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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