France and UK to establish intelligence unit to curb migrant smuggling across Channel

Coronavirus pandemic has failed to deter migrants crossing in small boats

This image provided by the Marine Nationale (French Navy) shows migrants aboard a rubber boat after being intercepted by French authorities, off the port of Calais, northern France, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. French authorities have rescued eight migrants, including two children, whose engine failed as they tried to sneak across the English Channel to Britain. (Marine Nationale via AP)
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Britain and France have agreed to establish a research unit to share intelligence and crack down on people who illegally smuggle migrants across the English Channel.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel and new French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Sunday discussed in Paris how their governments could curb illegal crossings.

It was Mr Darmanin's first international meeting in his new role.

The two ministers reaffirmed their determination to stop the crossings and bring criminal gangs behind them to justice.

The research unit will collate, centralise and analyse intelligence, and be staffed by French and UK officers.

It will feed into the already established teams working to end the crossings.

“I have been in France today seeing first-hand the significant work undertaken on that side of the Channel to address the unacceptably high levels of small boats, alongside the efforts of Border Force and the National Crime Agency in the UK,” Ms Patel said.

“But despite all of 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.

“This simply cannot be allowed to go on.”

Ms Patel and Mr Darmanin reaffirmed their commitment to return boats in the Channel to France, rather than allow them to reach the UK.

They said migrants should not risk their lives to reach Britain, given that France is a “safe country” with a well-run asylum system.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, border officials continue to see migrants regularly arrive on the British coast.

On June 22, officials intercepted 28 migrants off the coast of Dover, south-east England. They were from Syria, Kuwait, Iraq, Ethiopia and Sudan.

In May Ms Patel spoke with former French interior minister Christophe Castaner.

The two agreed to increase the number of officers with adequate equipment on the French coast, with British financial support.

In 2019 UK immigration enforcement made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions.

Of these, 259 arrests and 101 convictions were for people smuggling.