Written by Heidi Muller, CNN
France laid claims to areas of the Channel on Sunday that Britain claims were de facto its own after British fighter jets drew on them during last week’s exercise in the waters.
After tensions rose as British fighter jets circled over French airspace during a drill conducted this week at the Beaufort Range, an air base that straddles France’s border with the U.K., the French government called Britain’s bluff in a strongly worded statement published by its foreign ministry.
“It is clear that Britain claims territory that, historically speaking, was France’s,” the statement read. “It could not seek to control the entire Channel without having the legal cover of what is known as the territorial sea, the zone that surrounds the Island.”
Channel U.K.-French dispute over maritime border intensifies Marine police and customs officers clashed with demonstrators over a maritime border near Calais on Saturday, according to French reports.
The statement, which urged the U.K. to ratify the Inge de Bruijn Convention of 1922 which established international maritime border zones, referred to the 1,463 kilometers of Dover Strait — some 890 kilometers of which go under French waters.
The sea border issue has recently flared up as Britain and France lock horns over the port of Calais, a historically controversial hub for refugees in a spiraling humanitarian crisis.
British Prime Minister Theresa May visited Calais on Thursday to show her government’s willingness to tackle the challenges facing migrants attempting to get into the country, amid concerns France is not taking the problem seriously enough.
May made a strong public appeal to French President Emmanuel Macron to provide additional resources for Calais’ port while also pledging “more and better managed” asylum facilities in an area that has become notorious for traffickers setting up camps for migrants trying to enter the U.K.
Under growing pressure after more than one million refugees have arrived across Europe from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere in recent years, the migration crisis has come to the fore as one of the thorniest issues that have threatened to undermine hopes of a lasting EU project.
Dover Strait, which connects the English Channel to the northern shore of France, is a windy, fast-moving stretch of water that traverses the English Channel.
While the Channel is considered a “foreign” port of entry by migrants, the port of Calais has become a hub for smugglers, smuggling vessels, migrants and drugs smugglers — all attempting to make their way to the UK.
Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart has warned migrants have been using the town’s port to avoid the zero-tolerance approach of the British authorities.