According to recent reports (for instance in the Daily Mail on August 12, 2023) the French navy as of the last three years has embarked on a policy of escorting small migrant boats across the channel to Britain.

This puzzlingly seems to persist even since recent deals reached to cooperate on combating illegal crossings.

Furthermore, are such crossings not equally prohibited under French law as they are under British?

Once the navy is involved why does it not apprehend as criminals under French law rather than “escorting” them along to their destination?

And finally, What is entailed by such “escort”ing?

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    Migration is a hot topic in the UK and EU. There is much informed debate, but also much disinformation and oversimplification. What reports, exactly, do you refer to?
    – o.m.
    Aug 13, 2023 at 10:08
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    "are such crossings not equally prohibited under French law as they are under British?": Probably not. Why would you think they are? "Once the navy is involved why does it not apprehend as criminals under French law": why would you think the navy would engage in civilian law enforcement? Are you sure it's the navy rather than the coast guard?
    – phoog
    Aug 13, 2023 at 14:39
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    The navy usually do not do police duties. The ship (your link identifies it as the Cormoran) is a patrol vessel of the French Navy (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamant-class_patrol_vessel). Also a key point would be where in the channel the boats were (in UK waters they would have no jursidiction). From my reading it would seem that the vessel made itself available for humanitarian reasons just in case the boat had trouble in the bad weather.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 13, 2023 at 17:19
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    @Sjuan76: It sounds like the idea is for the navy to be more like hospital or EMS workers, rather than police workers; the EMS and hospital workers don't care what you did as long as you tell them the truth that helps them treat you (i.e. They would rather know that you took illegal drugs and treat you, than have you hide it on fear of them getting you jailed over the illegal drug usage.). Aug 14, 2023 at 3:47
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    "According to recent reports..." Typically a citation is given in such a case, if only to give more context. Maybe there is a good reason for the escortion and the question kind of answers itself. Also the question could show more research, maybe try to google the topic from other available sources. They could maybe show more. The same goes for "recent deals reached to cooperate on combating illegal crossings" - also there a citation could be given. And the "apprehend as criminals under French law" should be motivated more. Why should migrants be apprehended under French law as criminals? Aug 15, 2023 at 8:03

1 Answer 1


Let's take a look at two things:

First, a statement by a local prefect (pdf) about the local French maritime security plan.

The emergence of new maritime risks, and in particular immigration by sea to the United Kingdom from the coasts of Hauts-de-France and the upheavals and tensions linked to Brexit. In a context of fair sufficiency of emergency means of mutual support and solidarity between sea rescue actors is the strength of our ORSEC maritime system to be able to face new challenges;

So, while the verbiage isn't super clear, they seem concerned about effecting sea rescues in the context of migrant crossings.

Second, regional press coverage about a sinking in which 27 migrants died:

The general gist of that article seems to be that there is concern that the French navy was insufficiently diligent in providing aid.

That day, in its press releases, the maritime prefecture indicated that many means had been engaged to provide assistance to the shipwrecked, including the Flamant patrol boat of the French Navy. But from what time was he actually sent to the area? To our knowledge, the Flamingo intervened to rescue the survivors on November 24, after being alerted by a fishing vessel to the presence of bodies off the coast of Calais, i.e. after 1:30 p.m., notes Me Agathe Quinio and Emmanuel Daoud, lawyers for the Utopia 56 association, which filed a complaint for manslaughter and failure to provide assistance.

To get back to the question:

Furthermore, are such crossings not equally prohibited under French law as they are under British?

No, why would they be? Human trafficking is illegal, but merely crossing the Channel isn't illegal in itself.

Once the navy is involved why does it not apprehend as criminals under French law rather than “escorting” them along to their destination?

One can disagree with illegal immigration taking place and still avoid calling them criminals.

Truth be told, European countries are still very much feeling their way in how to handle sea crossings for the purposes of illegal immigration. Greece and Italy are the subject of frequent criticism during drowning events. While refugees aren't all that popular, neither is the prospect of letting people drown, which the Daily Mail seems to rather downplay. France has limited inherent self-interest in keeping refugees from leaving France to go the UK and it will require better negotiations between the UK and France to arrive at a clearer policy, rather than just blaming France willy-nilly like this question.

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    Aren't you a criminal once you cross the border illegally, if traveling from a country of safe passage? So travel from Libya to Italy is not illegal by default but travel from France to the UK would surely be a criminal activity as one cannot claim to be a genuine refugee at that point. Aug 16, 2023 at 15:45
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    @JonathanReez It's a matter of opinion, but I don't see any great value in labelling refugees as criminals, even when I support deporting some of them under some conditions (and including streamlining that process when appropriate). Criminals has a certain colloquial meaning, beyond breaking the law. A person caught speeding isn't typically called a criminal. Though a drunk driver who killed someone might. Insistence on using the term in that context puts you in a certain camp. Just like "Abolish ICE!" puts you in another camp. YMMV. Maybe a legal-savvy person can weigh in. Aug 16, 2023 at 20:20
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    Regardless of the label, the main question is whether one should suffer some form of a penalty from the state if caught. Most people would agree that those crossing from France to the UK without permission should indeed suffer a penalty. Aug 16, 2023 at 20:23
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    @JonathanReez My objection was to the OP's use of the label and your comment was about that so I don't see why you want to broaden it to another issue. The UK can choose to deport on the basis of safe-country origin, criminals isn't needed for that. And as far as penalties go, a number of penalties, deportation aside, are going to be rather insignificant compared to the fatality risks of those crossings, so they seem petty in nature, rather than constructive. Kind of like laws criminalizing suicides: what's the point? Aug 16, 2023 at 20:27
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    Right, which is why deportation is the ideal tool of choice and was successfully employed by Australia to keep their border shut. Throwing someone into jail is counter-productive, unless that jail happens to be in a remote country. Aug 16, 2023 at 20:31

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