Britain to get access to EU migrant intelligence in co-operation pact

Illegal Channel crossings are down 20 per cent while arrivals across the Mediterranean to Italy have doubled
Illegal Channel crossings are down 20 per cent while arrivals across the Mediterranean to Italy have doubled - GARETH FULLER/PA

Britain is set to gain access to EU intelligence on the migrant crisis in an imminent deal with the Frontex border agency, as Rishi Sunak urged European leaders to follow Britain’s crackdown on the criminal gangs fuelling illegal migration.

On Wednesday, sources in London and Brussels said they expected the new co-operation pact to be announced as early as this week after the deal was finalised between both sides.

British and European officials have concluded the substance of the agreement, with Brussels now at the “final stages” of signing it off with Frontex and its member states.

The agreement will hand Border Force officers access to real-time intelligence and mapping of migrant movements and people smuggling across Europe.

British officials are enthused with the deal because it will give domestic agencies eyes over the entirety of the EU’s external borders, rather than just the frontiers shared with the bloc.

It could also pave the way for joint deployments with Frontex on the edges of Europe, in the likes of Albania and Turkey, to stem the flow of migrants.

Details of the deal emerged as Mr Sunak prepared to host a Right-wing caucus on migration on the fringes of the European Political Community (EPC) summit in Granada on Thursday with Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni.

Immoral and unsustainable

Speaking ahead of the summit, the Prime Minister said: “Levels of illegal migration to mainland Europe are the highest they have been in nearly a decade.

“With thousands of people dying at sea, propelled by people smugglers, the situation is both immoral and unsustainable. We cannot allow criminal gangs to decide who comes to Europe’s shores.”

He will point to figures that show illegal Channel crossings are down 20 per cent while arrivals across the Mediterranean to Italy have doubled in a call for more European co-operation to address the influx.

Britain and Italy organised the informal gathering of like-minded countries that fear migration has become an existential threat to the continent, in a furious response to Spain refusing to add the deepening crisis to the EPC’s official agenda.

Madrid was accused of being “unhelpful” by European diplomats at a time when illegal migration is seen as the “main priority” for leaders ahead of next year’s bloc-wide elections.

The EPC, which brings together 50 European countries, including the EU’s member states, was seen as an ideal platform to tackle the issue because of the need to work with the wider neighbourhood.

More than 127,000 migrants have arrived in Italy in the first nine months of the year, including the more than 10,000 that landed on the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa in recent weeks.

Stop smugglers

Ms Meloni, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, and the French and Dutch have increasingly adopted British-inspired plans to stop smugglers before they can launch boats towards Europe.

Illegal Channel crossings are down from 25,040 last year to 20,101 in the first eight months of this year.

“The future of Europe depends on its ability to tackle epoch-making challenges of our time and the challenge of illegal immigration is for sure one of them,” the Italian premier recently warned.

Britain will today announce deals with Belgium, Bulgaria and Serbia to ramp up intelligence sharing and operations to disrupt smuggling gangs pushing migrants towards our borders.

British officials believe the Frontex deal will build on the bilateral pacts to give Border Force officials a better understanding of transit routes used by smugglers through Turkey and the Western Balkans.

Asylum reform

On the eve of the summit, Germany agreed to take in refugees saved at sea by state-sponsored charity boats in a symbolic concession for Italy as EU countries moved closer to asylum reform.

Berlin ignited a spat with Rome after revealing it has been funding three search and rescue organisations operating in the Mediterranean.

Under the agreement, which still requires approval from the European Parliament, Italy will be able to request the removal of migrant arrivals to other EU states.

Margaritis Schinas, Europe’s migration commissioner, said it was the “last missing link” of an attempted overhaul of the EU’s asylum rules that have been a decade in the making.

At an EU-only summit on Friday, the bloc’s leaders will stress that “migration is a European challenge that requires a European response” in their final communique.

More than 50,000 refugees could be made homeless by the end of the year under the Government’s plans to clear the asylum backlog, the British Red Cross has warned.

It said its refugee service had seen a 140 per cent increase in destitution since the Afghan move on period at the start of August, up from 132 people in June and July to 317 in  August and September.

The charity said it was having to hand out sleeping bags and tents to refugees who were facing life on the streets and support people feeling suicidal. At least one man has had all of his possession stolen while sleeping rough.

Alex Fraser, British Red Cross Director for Refugee Support, said: “We have been calling for a more joined-up approach to support people since before the changes to the move-on period on 1st August.

“We’re aware the Home Office is taking some action to address the issues. However thousands of people are already facing hardship, and the charities and local authorities supporting them are under pressure. These projected statistics show how urgent the situation is.”