PARIS (AP) — Britain’s immigration minister said after meeting with French officials Tuesday that the two countries are looking to put new muscle into their efforts to stop a record number of migrants successfully crossing the English Channel from France to Britain in small boats.
Chris Philp said the U.K. and France were working at “completely cutting” the Channel route with what he called a “comprehensive action plan.”
Philp, who spoke to Sky News, provided no details. There was no comment from the French about Philp’s meeting with Interior Ministry officials in Paris. Philp was joined in the talks by Britain’s newly appointed Channel threat commander, Dan O’Mahoney. O’Mahoney is to return to France next week to continue talks, Philp said.
More than 650 migrants have reached Britain so far in August — including 235 who made the 33-kilometer (about 20-mile) crossing in a single day last week.
“French authorities are doing a great deal of work. They’ve intercepted well over a thousand people so far this year,” Philp told Sky.
“But the sheer numbers crossing the Channel are completely unacceptable to the French government, and unacceptable to the UK Government, so it’s quite clear that more needs to be done … If we can make this route unviable, which we are determined to do, then migrants will have no reason at all to come to France in the first place.”
Numerous accords have been signed to stop migrant flows from northern France to Britain — the latest last month. British police have for years worked in France’s Calais region and Britain’s Border Force helps run a joint coordination center in Coquelles, outside Calais. Much of the cooperation, including funds from Britain, has centered on stopping migrants who mass around Calais and Dunkirk from sneaking onto trains in the undersea Eurotunnel or hiding in trucks boarding cross-Channel ferries.
But migrants’ success at using small boats, including rubber dinghies and kayaks, to make the perilous crossing changed the dynamics and upped British pressure on France.
French maritime authorities routinely save migrants in distress on one of the world’s busiest waterways, with 125 migrants rescued over the past week. But a comparison of those saved to those who make it across appears to reflect an increased willingness by desperate migrants to risk the crossing — and a thriving new niche for people smugglers who sell the small boats, which are unseaworthy in the currents of the English Channel. It may also indicate some success in keeping migrants off trucks and trains.
Britain and France signed a deal in early July to share intelligence on smuggling networks.
A count by French maritime authorities last year already showed an exploding number of migrants attempting the crossing in small boats, with more than 2,700 rescued at sea or stopped trying to embark — more than four times as many as in 2018. The upward curve was unrelenting this year with 4,192 migrants trying to cross in 342 boats by the end of July, said Marine Monjarde, spokeswoman for the Maritime Prefecture in northern France.
Maritime officials never say how many crossings were successful, noting their job is to save lives. Four migrants died last year, but none so far in 2020.
The crossings, often at night, are downright dangerous, Monjarde said. The migrants have no maritime experience, Monjarde noted. “They don’t know the wind, the currents, the tides … They’re usually carrying too much, their boats are generally badly equipped … they don’t always have life vests.”
But “they see the coast on the other side and the distance appears short,” she said.