France and UK make Channel illegal migrant crossings ‘unviable’ with increased security

·3-min read

A new agreement between Britain and France to increase patrols and technology to try and stop illegal migration across the Channel comes into force on Tuesday.

The deal, signed Saturday by interior minister Gérald Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel, doubles the number of officers patrolling a 150-km stretch of France’s coastline which is targeted by people-smuggling networks.

It also increases surveillance technology such as drones, radar equipment and cameras to detect people who risk their lives trying to cross the 30-km stretch of water.

The agreement represented a step forward in the two countries' “shared mission to make Channel crossings unviable”, Patel said in a statement.

"Thanks to more police patrols on French beaches and enhanced intelligence sharing between our security and law enforcement agencies, we are already seeing fewer migrants leaving French beaches," she said.

More than €31m invested

A growing number of migrants have tried to reach Britain across the perilous and busy shipping lane in recent months. Four people died doing so in 2019 and seven so far this year.

Last weekend, French patrol boats rescued 45 migrants, including a pregnant woman and children apparently suffering from hypothermia, trying to cross over to Britain.

As part of the deal, Britain "has pledged to make an additional financial investment of €31.4 million to support France's major efforts against illegal crossings," the French interior ministry said in a statement issued Sunday.

The ministry also said it would review results over the next six months to "assess the effectiveness and impact of these additional measures".

Tired of playing border patrol

Several charities, including rights group Amnesty International, have criticised the deal.

In the UK Detention Action said it amount to “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”.

Damien Careme, a French MEP with the Green party and former mayor of Grande Synthé near Calais said the money would be better spent elsewhere.

“I would prefer us to invest rather than enriching security companies, with equipment, drones, radars and so on because that’s what it is, a market of migration: several hundreds of millions of euros spent every year."

In 2016, Careme helped set up a refugee camp in Grande Synthé which met the minimum UN humanitarian standards. He said the deal wouldn't achieve its purpose.

"It’s a permanent case of one-upmanship which doesn’t deliver because we see that [these crossings] continue,” he said.

He also asked: “How much longer are we going to play the role of border patrol with a country that’s leaving Europe?"

Deadly crossings

The issue of controlling illegal crossings between France and the UK has long been a source of tension between the two countries.

In September, French authorities said they had intercepted more than 1,300 people trying to reach Britain, including a handful who had attempted to swim the 30-odd kilometres across the English Channel.

Around 6,200 attempted the crossing between January 1 and the end of August, with inflatable boats, paddleboards, kayaks or even life jackets to keep them afloat.

Northern France has long been a magnet for people seeking to smuggle themselves to Britain in small boats or in one of the thousands of trucks and cars that cross over daily on ferries and trains.

A recent report by Gisti, a legal service for asylum seekers in France, chronicled nearly 300 border-related deaths in and around the English Channel since 1999.

The report “Deadly Crossings and the militarisation of Britain’s borders” described the evolution of border security in and around the Dover Strait as a “history of death” .

It claimed that responses to the migrant crisis, under successive French and UK governments, have become increasingly militarised, forcing people to resort to more dangerous routes.

(with newswires)