A police patrol on the beach of Slack, September 8, 2021 | Photo: Mehdi Chebil/ InfoMigrants
A police patrol on the beach of Slack, September 8, 2021 | Photo: Mehdi Chebil/ InfoMigrants

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced additional methods to prevent migrant crossings from northern France to the English coast at the start of this week. Ultra-modern equipment will be used to try to lower the numbers attempting to cross the English Channel. This comes in the same week as the Channel experienced its deadliest migrant shipwreck.

More mobile vehicles, including quads and 4x4s, will be used to patrol the beaches of the northern coast of France. More zodiacs will be motoring around the Channel to intercept migrants. More thermal cameras and night vision equipment will be employed to spot the slightest movement on the beaches and in the dunes of Calais, Grande-Synthe, Dunkirk, and other places.

That's according to Gerald Darmanin, who on November 22 announced a string of new methods for police and gendarmes to fight irregular migration on the Channel coast. His goal is to secure the coastal strip that stretches over 130 kilometers from Dunkirk to the Bay of Somme.

For a total of €11 million, and "within the framework of a cooperation agreement with the United Kingdom", more than 100 vehicles will be delivered over the next year. All of this equipment "has sophisticated surveillance and detection systems", the ministry writes. For the time being, only "20 vehicles have already been delivered and are in daily use by the forces" in northern France.

"In addition to these mobile units, modern and efficient night vision equipment, thermal cameras, 300 lamps, 160 tactical lighting projectors will be used to intercept and communicate," the interior ministry's statement reads. "These materials will also be delivered during 2022 and gradually made available to the forces."

Read more: Dozens drown in English Channel's deadliest migrant drowning accident

Endless discussions between London and Paris

The issue of migrant crossings has long been the subject of discussion between France and the UK. In 2021 alone, the two countries have met at least three times to discuss the subject. In June, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone specifically about it. The British prime minister had insisted to the French president on the "need to redouble our efforts to dissuade migrants" from crossing the Channel.

A month later, Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel met to reiterate their shared desire to strengthen surveillance methods on the French coast. The United Kingdom also committed "to a financial investment of €62.7 million in 2021-22 to support France" and develop the means to fight against illegal immigration. A joint statement referred to the establishment, "in the long term", of a "smart border" along the coastline, with surveillance technology "to better detect attempted crossings".

Read more: Macron vows English Channel will not become a 'cemetery' after 27 migrants drown

Record crossings

In 2020, there were the same meetings and the same decisions to increase surveillance. In November 2020, London and Paris had signed an agreement to - once again - try to curb crossings of the English Channel. Applied from December 1, 2020, it had already doubled the number of French patrols "supported by drones and radar to identify those who attempt to cross", said Patel.

Read more: Macron urges British PM not to politicise deadly migrant boat tragedy in Channel

Even in 2019, talks about increasing efforts to patrol the coastline were already on the agenda. Each time, the two powers have put in place strategies for joint action that costs millions of euros. But, so far, it has all been in vain.

The numbers have not reduced, instead they have exploded. Three times the number of people who crossed the English Channel in 2020 have already successfully crossed in 2021. According to the Prefect of Pas-de-Calais, 29,360 people tried to reach England by sea between January and the end of September, compared to 8,404 last year. About 22,000 succeeded in reaching the British coast.


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