EU foreign and defence ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss their concerns about the Mediterranean migrant crisis and consider whether to step up efforts to seize the boats of human traffickers and sink them before they are put out to sea with their human cargo.
Over the weekend the French government joined Britain in rejecting EU plans for a quota system for sharing asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East.
The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, and the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, will join their European counterparts at a session of the EU foreign affairs council – chaired by the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini with Nato’s General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen sitting in.
It follows reports that Isis militants are exploiting the refugee crisis to smuggle fighters into Europe.
Unlike Britain, France appears to be open to some kind of EU agreement to relieve the burden of the thousands of migrants arriving in Italy after perilous voyages across the Mediterranean from Libya.
“I am against the creation of quotas for migrants. That has never corresponded with the French government’s position,” French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, said on Saturday. He said that he wanted to end the “confusion” resulting from apparently contradictory remarks in recent days by President François Hollande, who is against quotas, and the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, who appears to support them. “We must not allow people to think that we will accept quotas,” Mr Valls said.
He was speaking in the French coastal resort of Menton, a few miles from the Franco-Italian border, which has been besieged in recent days by migrants trying to make their way to France, Germany and Britain.
More than 1,000 people who made the journey across the Mediterranean have been turned back to Italy in the last five days by French police.
Scores of others have evaded checks by walking along the beach and are sleeping rough in Nice and other French towns on the Côte d’Azur.
French officials made it clear yesterday that Mr Valls’ comments did not imply that France was unwilling to take any migrants from Italy. They said that, at a summit in Brussels next month, Paris would oppose the European Commission’s plan for a fixed quota system, based on the population and unemployment rates in the 28 EU countries.
Instead any agreement on sharing migrants should take account of the efforts already made by a handful of EU countries, they said. “Today France, Italy, Germany, Britain and Sweden take 75 per cent of the refugees who demand asylum in Europe,” Mr Valls said.
Intelligence analysts told a BBC investigation that Isis is working with human trafficking gangs to transport its members into the West by hiding them among refugees on boats, and is capitalising on the emergency in the region to fund its terrorist activities by taxing people smugglers.
Abdul Basit Haroun, an adviser to the intelligence service of the Libyan government, said he had spoken to boat-owners who operate in Isis-controlled areas and they told him the group takes 50 per cent of their income. The proceeds can run to tens of thousands of pounds per vessel.
He told BBC 5 live Investigates that Isis “gives permission for the boat-owner to use the spot under their control and they charge them for that 50/50 of whatever they make”.He added: “They use the boats for people they want to send to Europe as the European police don’t know who is from Isis and who is a normal refugee.”
Asked why Isis would be doing this, he said: “I think they do something for planning in future, not for today or tomorrow.”Reuse content