Mark White, Sky, May 7, 2020
The British and French governments have agreed to step up efforts to try stem the flow of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.
Home Secretary Priti Patel held a telephone call with her French counterpart Christophe Castaner after the number of migrants reaching UK shores – or intercepted in UK territorial waters – surged to around 1,200 this year.
A total of 1,900 migrants arrived in the UK by small boat in the whole of 2019.
Sky News has been told that around 700 men, women and children have been intercepted in small boats in British waters and on south coast beaches since the coronavirus lockdown began on March 23.
A Home Office spokesman confirmed that the home secretary emphasised in her telephone call with the French interior minister that “it was more important than ever to work closely together.”
Mr Castaner agreed on the need to continue close cooperation and to explore a number of possible initiatives.
The home secretary said she believed the increase in small boat arrivals was, in part, due to restrictions on vehicle crossings by ferry and rail, because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
The UK and French governments have agreed on three key areas to help combat the trade in illegal sea crossings.
There will be an “increased deployment of forces, with adequate equipment, on the French coast, with UK financial support.”
However, the Home Office has not confirmed how much additional funding will be given to French authorities.
The French interior minister also agreed on “returning migrant boats at sea back to France when possible.”
There will also be “improved cooperation and intelligence sharing to tackle criminal gangs.”
The National Crime Agency is already engaged with law enforcement agencies on the other side of the Channel, in efforts to smash the people-smuggling rings responsible.
In just 24 hours over Sunday and Monday of this week, more than 130 migrants were intercepted as they tried to make it to the UK.
On Sunday, 49 migrants were found in small inflatable boats in UK waters, while French authorities stopped another 31 migrants in boats on their side of the Channel.
On Monday morning, 16 Iranian and Iraqi migrants were taken off a small boat and transported to Dover by Border Force officers.
Hours earlier, French authorities intercepted a number of boats containing 39 migrants, including seven children. They were taken to Boulogne for processing by French immigration officials.
The British government has repeatedly warned immigrants not to attempt to make the dangerous crossing by small boat. Last year, two migrants drowned in separate incidents, while trying to make the crossing.
At the end of 2018, then home secretary Sajid Javid declared a “major incident” in the Channel because of the increase in migrants trying to cross by small boat.
More Border Force vessels were assigned to patrol the waters between the UK and the continent.
But despite the extra resources – on both sides of the Channel – the numbers attempting the crossing have continued to grow, aided by a sophisticated people-smuggling network, which continues to thrive despite dozens of arrests across several European countries.