The Home Office is negotiating to help pay for the centres across France to accommodate migrants intercepted before crossing the Channel in order to prevent them making further attempts to reach the UK in small boats.
The centres will enable the French to transport migrants away from the north coast beaches to apply for asylum in France or a “safe” third European country through which they have previously passed.
Migrants are known to make multiple bids to cross the channel as smuggling gangs tell them it will take three or four attempts before they get to the UK. MPs complain that the French tend to release migrants caught on the beaches unless officers can arrest the smugglers in situ.
The multi-million pound scheme is similar to the EU’s deal with Turkey where it paid the Turks £5 billion to take back migrants returned from Greece, which has adopted the “push back” tactics that Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, wants to introduce in the Channel.
However, the plan is being held up by a war of words between Britain and France over the failure of the French to prevent more migrants leaving the beaches, and France’s refusal to take back those intercepted or “pushed back” by Border Force vessels.
Ms Patel has told Gerald Darmanin, her French counterpart, that Britain will pull the plug on the £54 million deal unless they increase the number of migrants stopped before they reach UK waters.
“The investment in those centres across France would be dedicated support to migrants and possibly voluntary returns to countries of origin where appropriate,” said a Home Office source.
“It will include accommodation, medical advice and guidance on asylum applications so that they have an alternative to crossing. The further away from northern France, the more chance there is of changing their behaviour and decisions.”
It replicates a similar scheme already tested last year.
Dan O’Mahoney, the clandestine channel threat commander, told MPs: “We have a good track record when people are moved into reception centres; they are much more likely to claim asylum in the French system.
“It would be true to say that there is also a cohort of people who are moved away not as far as we would like from the place in which they are intercepted, and unfortunately, they then get recycled back into the population in Calais.”
Tim Loughton, a former minister and member of the home affairs committee, said it would hinge on the French changing their tactics from releasing migrants intercepted on the beaches unless they caught smugglers.
He urged the Government to tear up the deal unless the French improved their stop rate.
“The more money we put their way, the worse job they do and more problems come up. We should not pay the £54 million until we see some results otherwise we are throwing good money after bad,” he said.
Tony Smith, the former director general of Border Force, said it was hypocritical of the EU and French to agree a multi-billion Euro deal with Turkey to accept migrants “pushed back” or returned on its eastern border but then not agree a similar arrangement in the north with the UK.
He said the French also needed to deport failed asylum seekers. “All they do in the EU is give them a notice to quit the Shengen area but they don’t. They move from one Shengen country to another and hang around. They are not very good at enforcing removals,” he added.
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said: “It’s got to be better that migrants have asylum claims properly considered in France where they are safe.
“This move to establish new reception centres in France must be welcome if it helps to reduce the number of migrants seeking to make the hazardous journey across the English Channel.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings across the Channel, which is why we continue to explore every option available to bring these numbers down.
“As part of our joint agreement with France we are investing in centres dedicated to providing support to migrants, and we have been clear that people should claim asylum in France rather than undertake a dangerous and illegally-facilitated journey across the Channel.
“All countries have a moral responsibility to tackle the issue of illegal migration and we must continue working together to make the Channel crossings organised by people smugglers unviable. Measures we are including in the Nationality and Borders Bill will crack down on this criminality.”