More than 17,000 people thought to have successfully crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats in 2021
In a visit to Dunkirk on Saturday, French interior minister Gerald Darmanin urged the UK to keep its word and pay the £54m it promised to support French efforts in preventing migrant crossings through the English Channel.
“We are asking the British to keep their promises of financing because we are holding the border for them,” he said
Mr Darmanin also called on Britain to take measures to reduce its “attractiveness” for migrants without residency papers, without elaborating. Mr Darmanin said: “We are speaking of human beings. There are children, babies who are taking these boats, who are risking their lives. There are people who die in the Channel. I don’t want them to be hostage to political debates.”
Earlier this year, the government pledged to provide millions to support the issue but Priti Patel recently threatened to withhold the funding unless more people were stopped from reaching the UK.
According to data compiled by the PA News Agency, more than 17,000 people have successfully crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats in 2021.
General Frantz Tavart, the French commander in charge of patrols along the Calais coastline, last month threatened to pull his coast guards if the UK holds back funds.
Kim Bryan from Channel Rescue said in the last two weeks her group had spotted, from the cliffs of Dover, Border Force officials practising a pushback using jet-skis.
“What they seem to be doing is pushing the boat from the stern and from the bow, and I guess the idea is they’re going to push them back into French waters,” Ms Bryan told BBC Breakfast on Sunday.
“These boats are incredibly flimsy. Just the wash from jet-skis going around them in the first place could cause them to capsize.
“What we will be seeing, then, if this starts happening, is tragedy. The consequences are going to be horrific. I think it’s entirely unsafe, entirely impractical for Priti Patel to suggest that we do pushbacks in the Channel.”
Last month, the Home Office’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said only a “small proportion” of boats could be legally turned back using the mechanism but was unable to tell the Commons Home Affairs Committee when or if the policy would be put into practice.
It comes as dozens of people were seen being brought ashore by Border Force on Saturday after making the dangering crossing. It’s thought that large numbers of migrants made the crossing on Friday.
A Home Office spokesman said: “French and UK officials continue to work together on the final funding arrangements, which form part of the bilateral agreement.
“We maintain regular contact with France on this work at an operational and policy level.
“Joint cooperation with the French has led to nearly 300 arrests, 65 convictions and prevented more than 13,500 crossings. But with hundreds still risking their lives and making the crossing, all sides must do more.”