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UK to fund France detention site as leaders agree migration deal

France and the UK have agreed on a multi-year financial package to halt cross-Channel migration, days after the UK government criticized a bill banning unauthorized arrivals.

As part of the deal announced on Friday, the UK will help fund a detention center in France, while French authorities will deploy a new dedicated permanent police unit and improved technology to patrol the country’s beaches, including drones and aircraft.

The agreement also includes doubling the number of staff deployed to northern France to tackle small boat crossings, half of which will be on site by the end of 2023.

There will be a new 24-hour zonal coordination center with permanent British liaison officers that will bring together all relevant French authorities to coordinate the response.

Agents from both countries will also seek cooperation with countries along the routes favored by smugglers.

The UK said it would contribute about $581 million in funding over the next three years to help pay for the new measures, adding it expected France to contribute “significantly more money”. France has not provided cost estimates.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron said at a press conference after a meeting in Paris that the two sides had agreed to work more closely together.

“It’s time for a fresh start,” Macron said.

Sunak, who took office in October 2022, said the two countries shared “the same beliefs” and had “taken cooperation to an unprecedented level”.

“Criminal gangs are not allowed to decide who comes to our country. Within weeks of my taking office, we agreed on our largest ever small boat deal and today we have taken our partnership to an unprecedented level to meet this shared challenge,” he said.

The two leaders also discussed further defense cooperation and the joint training of Ukrainian troops.

Sunak has made blocking boat arrivals one of his five priorities after the number of people arriving on England’s south coast rose to more than 45,000 last year.

Camille Le Coz, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told Al Jazeera that when it comes to policy, “what we’re seeing is more of the same.”

Anglo-French cooperation on controls at their shared borders has been formalized in the past through a series of bilateral agreements.

“What the UK really wants is to be able to send people back to France, and this is something that has not been agreed and will not be approved by France,” Le Coz said.

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said ties between the two countries have been rocky since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016, but have been strengthened by the countries’ support for Ukraine since the invasion from Russia last year.

Friday’s summit was the first in five years, Butler said, and the reshuffle was due in part to “a healthy sense of purpose” forged by the ongoing conflict.

UK plan to stop Channel crossings

The new agreement came after criticism in the UK of new draft legislation – dubbed the “Illegal Migration Bill” – which bans the entry of asylum seekers arriving by unauthorized means, such as in small boats across the Channel.

The legislation would allow people to be detained without bail or judicial review for the first 28 days after arrival.

It would also disqualify people from using modern slavery laws to challenge government decisions to remove them from court.

Sunak said the government will “take back control of our borders once and for all”.

Diane Abbott, an MP from the main opposition Labor Party, said the bill “mistreats migrants and their rights” and would not work “in the real world”.

Ylva Johansson, the European Union’s home affairs commissioner, said she believed the plans violated international law.

Opposition parties and rights groups have questioned the morality and practicality of the government’s longstanding migration policies, including the deportation of some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

British Home Secretary Suella Braverman admitted on Tuesday that the government had “pushed the boundaries of international law”.