Police patrol the beach near Calais to stop people attempting to cross the Channel | Photo: Reuters / Pascal Rossignol
Police patrol the beach near Calais to stop people attempting to cross the Channel | Photo: Reuters / Pascal Rossignol

The British Home Secretary Priti Patel met with her French counterpart on Sunday, July 12 to discuss how the two governments can step up their action against the smuggling of people across the Channel. The number of those attempting to cross has risen this year to "unacceptable" levels, said Patel.

Priti Patel, Britain's home secretary (interior minister) flew to France on Sunday, July 12 to meet with her French counterpart, newly appointed Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. According to a press release from the British Home Office, the two of them "reiterated their determination to stop the crossings and bring the ruthless criminal gangs behind them to justice."

The meeting came as the French coastguard intercepted 21 migrants trying to cross the Channel in three small boats on Saturday. Four of the migrants were rescued from the water after their boat capsized. All 21 were brought back to France. The people in the boat which capsized were suffering from "severe hypothermia," according to the BBC.A boat patrols the English Channel waters | Photo: Picture-alliance/G.FullerThe British Home Office also confirmed to the BBC that they detained six more migrants in Dover after they arrived on a small boat on Saturday. It is thought more than 200 migrants tried to cross the Channel on Sunday, although it is "unclear how many made it to England." A joint British-French search and rescue operation was launched in the Channel on Sunday to try and locate the migrants trying to cross.

Among the agreements reached on Sunday, according to the Home Office press release, Ministers Patel and Darmanin agreed that anyone found trying to cross the Channel would be returned to France "rather than being allowed to reach the UK."

'Numbers continue to increase'

The two countries have already been cooperating on the subject of migration and migrant smuggling. However, Priti Patel said that: "despite all the action taken by law enforcement to date – intercepting the boats, making arrests, returning people back to France and putting the criminals responsible behind bars- the numbers continue to increase." From file: A migrant stands near a fence installed to secure the Eurotunnel platform area near the migrant camp known as the new Jungle in Calais, northern France, October  21, 2015 | Photo: Picture-alliance/AP PhotoThe two countries have now announced that they will form an "Operational Research Unit to combat migrant-smuggling." Priti Patel called the numbers of boats trying to cross the Channel with migrants "unacceptably high." She added that the state of affairs "simply cannot be allowed to go on." She said that the new unit would "crack down on the gangs." Patel added that she had "impressed on my French counterpart the need to stop these illegal crossings for the benefit of both our countries." She called it "the start of a new operational approach with the newly appointed French Interior Minister."

'New Operational Unit'

The new unit is expected to "collate, centralize and analyze operational intelligence to prevent crossings from taking place and to dismantle the gangs behind them."

Both ministers said that since France was a "safe country with a well-run asylum system" no migrant should risk their lives by trying to leave France in order to reach the UK. The UK government said that in 2019 its immigration enforcement officers had "made 418 arrests" which had led to "203 convictions for a total of 437 years [in prison]." They added that of those figures, 259 arrests and 101 convictions had been for people smuggling.

Dismantling camps in Calais

Meanwhile in Calais, one of the first actions of the new French interior minister was to order the dismantlement of migrant camps in the town. On Friday, July 10 InfoMigrants French reported on the dismantling of a camp which was home to "about 500 migrants," in Calais. Pro-migrant associations working in the area said the operation was "violent" and "pointless."Police officers dismantle migrants’ tents in the “rue des Huttes” camp in Calais, on October 31, 2019 | Photo: Mehdi ChebilIn a press release the Prefecture for the local region, Pas-de-Calais said that a "total of 519 people were put on 16 buses and taken to centers" in several French regions. "20 people without papers were taken into administrative detention and 13 people (families and minors) were taken to integration centers where they will be provided with accommodation."

One volunteer, Yolaine Bernard, working for pro-migrant association Salam, called the dismantling a "man-hunt" saying that the migrants weren't given a choice about whether or not they boarded the bus and that instead they were "encircled like animals and forced to board by the authorities."

'Migrants come to Calais to cross the Channel'

The authorities responded that the illegal occupation of land by these camps posed a "security and hygiene risk" for local residents and the owners of the land itself. From file: An aerial view of the Eurotunnel site in Calais, northern France, August 24, 2016 | Photo:  Picture-alliance/AP PhotoAccording to the news agency AP, the French interior minister, following the meeting with the UK, said: "It's very important that our British friends realize that if the migrants come here in Calais, it's not for the beauty of the city but it's to cross the Channel." For his part, he asked the British government for "more means" to try and clamp down on camps and crossings.

Darmanin said in a tweet that he wanted to "thank the police, and all those who participate in the fight against clandestine migration in Calais." He said their work was "essential, especially in the fight against smugglers who profit from human distress."


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