Rishi Sunak urged European countries to “work cooperatively to tackle illegal migration” at a gathering of leaders from across the continent in Moldova.
The Prime Minister also used the meeting of the European Political Community to call for more support for Ukraine, backing Volodymyr Zelensky’s case for his war-torn nation to be part of Nato after talks with the Ukrainian president.
Security for Ukraine and Moldova in the face of Moscow’s aggression dominated the summit held at a castle in the former Soviet republic, but Mr Sunak sought to put the issue of migration top of the agenda too.
Speaking to broadcasters, he said: “Whether it’s standing up to Russian aggression here in Moldova or in Ukraine, but also tackling illegal migration, are challenges that we can only really solve when we work together with other countries.
“I’ve been having a series of very productive discussions here to strengthen everyone’s support for Ukraine, but also to work cooperatively to tackle illegal migration, which is one of my five big priorities.”
Mr Sunak was expected to announce the start of negotiations on a new returns agreement with Moldova to allow the UK to send Moldovans found to be in violation of immigration law back to their home country.
Only 17 were found to have arrived via unauthorised means between January 2018 and March this year, according to the department’s data.
It comes as a similar deal with Georgia enters into force, and follows migration agreements with Albania and France.
The Times reported that Britain would also target Turkey and Bulgaria as part of efforts to tackle small boats crossing the Channel, with the paper saying Border Force had evidence that Turkey had become a main hub for the manufacture of the dinghies used.
Mr Sunak was also expected to announce an increase in bilateral intelligence-sharing with Bulgaria to crack down on criminal gangs involved in illegal migration.
The Government has also offered support to Moldova, amid ongoing tensions with Moscow.
“As the first British Prime Minister to visit Moldova, I’m pleased to announce new support to aid them in the face of Russian aggression,” Mr Sunak tweeted.
“Moldova is not alone.”
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in March announced UK funding of £10 million for Moldova, earmarked for economic and governance reforms and including the energy sector.
Mr Sunak was also due to meet his Spanish and Polish counterparts Pedro Sanchez and Mateusz Morawiecki, with whom he held a roundtable discussion on security at the summit.
In attending the gathering near Chisinau, Mr Sunak was following in the footsteps of predecessor Liz Truss, who made time to attend the first meeting in the Czech Republic last October during her short-lived premiership.
Spearheaded by French President Emmanuel Macron, the European Political Community is scheduled to be hosted by the UK in 2024.