Britain and France will spend more money trying to halt migrants crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lane in tiny boats after officials acknowledged a failure to tackle smuggling gangs behind the illegal trade.
More than 1,500 people have attempted to cross the Channel from France to the UK in 2019, according to French reports, more than double the number for the whole of last year.
The UK government has blamed criminal gangs for exploiting those trying to get into Britain before the country leaves the European Union. The government has pledged tighter immigration controls after the planned Brexit date of October 31.
The waterway measures 21 miles at its narrowest and represents the final obstacle at the end of long journeys. The latest groups have been dominated by Iranians – the fastest growing group of asylum seekers in 2018, according to statistics from the Refugee Council.
French interior minister Christophe Castaner and his British counterpart, Priti Patel, met in Paris when they discussed “how more resources to intercept and stop crossings along the French coast were crucial,” according to a British government statement on Friday.
Any British funding would be added to the £6 million already committed by the British in January for equipment to monitor the French coastline including patrols, security cameras and drones.
“It’s not enough for Britain to write a cheque and leave it to us to do the policing on our side,” Xavier Bertrand, a councillor in the region that includes the coastal port of Calais, told the Telegraph newspaper.
“We need the same effort and the same resources on both sides of the Channel.”
Ms Patel’s predecessor, Sajid Javad, last year declared the boat crossings a “major incident” after a surge in waterborne attempts to reach the UK. The UK now has three cutters patrolling the sea after pulling back from operations in the Mediterranean.
Ms Patel said: “It’s vital we ensure our collective expertise is used to stop the boats from leaving French shores and dismantle the criminal networks driving this activity.”
France claims to have dismantled ten smuggling networks in recent months. The vast majority of people travelling illegally into the UK still travel hidden in lorries crossing into the UK on ferries and via an undersea tunnel.
The talks in Paris follow a surge in attempted sea crossings since October last year and have continued during mild summer weather conditions. Dozens of migrants, including children, were detained trying to cross the Channel in four separate incidents last week.
The danger of the crossing was highlighted last week when the body of an Iraqi migrant after apparently trying to swim across the Channel with flippers and a life jacket made from plastic water bottles.
The British government has warned migrants that they face return to Europe, despite a backlog of tens of thousands of people waiting to be removed from the UK. Refugee groups said those trying to cross to the UK have been seeking to reunite with family members already living in the country.