British and French interior ministers signed a deal on Monday that will see more police patrols on beaches in northern France to try to stop people trying to cross the Channel in small boats – a regular source of friction between the two countries.
As dozens of people were picked up and brought ashore on Monday by a British Border Force ship, the British government said it had agreed to pay France some 72.2 million euros ($75 million ) in 2022-2023, i.e. almost 10 million euros more than under an existing contract. agreement – in exchange for France increasing security patrols along the coast by 40%.
This includes 350 additional gendarmes and police monitoring the beaches of Calais and Dunkirk, as well as more drones and night vision equipment to help officers detect level crossings.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the deal would mean “for the first time, British officials integrated into French operations to enhance the coordination and effectiveness of our operations”.
He said the agreement would be “a basis for even greater cooperation in the months to come”.
The agreement, signed by French Home Secretary Gérald Darmanin and UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman in Paris, contains proposals to tackle crime through migration routes, with the two ministers agreeing that their countries would reap information on intercepted migrants to help combat smuggling networks.
No specific targets for boat interceptions were included in the deal, the latest in a series of migration deals the two countries have struck over the years.
The UK receives fewer asylum seekers than many European countries, including Italy, France and Germany, but thousands of migrants from around the world make their way to northern France every year in the hope of crossing the English Channel. Some want to come to the UK because they have friends or family there, others because they speak English or because it is perceived as easy to find work.
In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of people attempting the journey in rubber dinghies and other small watercraft, with authorities cracking down on alternative routes such as stowage on buses.
More than 40,000 people have made the dangerous journey on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes so far this year, up from 28,000 in 2021 and 8,500 in 2020.
Dozens of people died in the attempt, including 27 people in November 2021 when a crowded smuggling boat capsized.
Britain and France have long argued over how to stop the smuggling gangs organizing the trips.
Monday’s announcement comes as Sunak, who took office three weeks agoaims to improve relations with Britain’s neighbours, which soured under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who often seemed happy to annoy European officials – and his briefly successor Liz Truss.
Sunak met French President Emmanuel Macron last week at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt, and the first France-UK summit in several years is scheduled for early 2023.
In another attempt to deter crossings, the British government has announced a controversial plan to send people arriving in small boats one way to Rwanda – a plan it says will break the business model of smuggling gangs. Critics say the plan is immoral and impractical, and is being challenged in court.
Critics have also slammed the UK government for failing to process asylum claims quickly, leaving thousands stuck in overcrowded detention centers and temporary accommodation.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the charity Refugee Council in Britain, said enforcement action would do little to stop cross-Channel trafficking.
“The government must take a more holistic approach and create an orderly, just and humane asylum system that recognizes that the vast majority of those who embark on a dangerous journey are refugees fleeing for their lives,” he said. declared. “He has to face the fact that this is a global problem that will not be solved by enforcement alone.”
Braverman, a champion of the Rwandan plan who has been accused by critics of demonizing migrants, acknowledged “there is no silver bullet” to this complex problem.
“But this new arrangement means we can dramatically increase the number of French gendarmes patrolling the beaches of northern France and ensure that British and French officers work hand in hand to stop smugglers,” she said. to broadcasters.