France's interior minister has asked the EU border agency to support French authorities in stemming the increasing flow of irregular migrants trying to reach the UK. Meanwhile, 80 migrants were rescued in the British Channel over the weekend and returned to France.
On Saturday (July 24), French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he has asked Frontex, the border and coast guard agency of the European Union, not to neglect the French authorities on the northern coastline in their effort to curb irregular migration.
"I myself have contacted Frontex, which is predominantly taking care of southern Europe, and asked them to deal with northern Europe, too, particularly the coastline of Nord-Pas-de-Calais," Darmanin told reporters on a visit to the French port of Calais, one of the points from which migrants try to cross the Channel to reach Britain, many with the help of smugglers.
"Sixty percent of migrants who come here, come via Belgium. So, our spectrum must be very wide. We need European air surveillance," Darmanin said. On Twitter, he wrote that help has been mobilized to surveil France's 110-kilometer coastline from where most migrants reportedly depart.
The number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel to Britain has been rising sharply since the end of 2018. As of last week, the number of migrants who reached the UK in small boats this year has eclipsed the total for all of 2020, when some 9,500 crossings or attempted crossings were recorded, four times as many as in 2019, according to the French authorities.
Crossings of the English Channel typically increase in favorable summer weather, despite warnings from the authorities of the dangers of such a journey, which include high density of traffic and strong sea currents.
Thus far, the focus of the vast majority of Frontex missions has been guarding Europe's southern borders. According to information on its own website, key operations include Themis (Italy), Poseidon Sea (Greece), Indalo and Minerva (Spain), western Balkans (Albania, Montenegro) as well as "activities in Bulgaria and Hungary."
80 migrants rescued in Channel
According to French maritime officials, the French Navy rescued 80 migrants from distress in the English Channel on Sunday (July 25). Among the people were 18 women, including a pregnant one, and 20 children, an online statement said.
"The migrants, who were travelling in small boats, were unharmed and brought to the port of Calais," German news agency dpa reported.
The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes worldwide with dense maritime traffic, strong currents and constant wind. At its narrowest point -- the Strait of Dover -- the waterway is 33 kilometers wide and between 120 meters and 45 meters deep. Last year, at least four people died in the body of water, while there were six deaths and three missing persons in 2020.
Joint announcement on border protection
France's Interior Minister Darmanin's plea to Frontex comes after France and the UK last week announced they would bolster their border protection and clamp down on irregular migration and smugglers.
Under the deal, which stipulates more police along the French coast and investments in detection technology, among other things, the UK will invest €62.7 million in 2021-2022 to help France stem the flow of migrants trying to cross the Channel irregularly.
On Twitter, Darmanin said the "historic agreement" would allow the two countries to "better secure the border and to better fight against smuggling networks."
"We already have more than 5,000 police officers and gendarmes in Pas-de-Calais, a large number of whom are involved in the fight against immigration. We will increase these numbers," Darmanin said in Calais.
On the other side of the Channel, the government is trying to make the country less attractive for asylum seekers, according to the joint statement. Moreover, it plans to enforce measures like sanctions on illegal migration and those who abet it.
The highly contentious Nationality and Borders Bill, which was introduced on July 6 and has yet to be approved by both houses of British Parliament, seeks to further restrict the asylum application process and to clamp down on clandestine Channel crossings by people seeking refuge in the UK.
With AFP, dpa