French police are playing a cat-and-mouse game with people smuggling gangs as both sides watch out for the other amid record numbers making the crossing to England.
Police use thermal imaging kits and cars bought by the UK to increase patrols along the coast and try to persuade people not to make the dangerous, sometimes lethal, trek across the English Channel.
Often the boats they capture are small and unseaworthy. Sometimes a boat for two people is used to send 10 out to sea. At other times, migrants hope to make the crossing through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes using only a couple of paddles.
One of the first signs of smuggler gangs onshore is a spotter looking out for police vehicles and officers.
“When you have a boat with children, women, men in it that are out at sea or who are going to leave, you already know that they are going to put their lives in danger,” said Sgt Patrice Villeilm, a pilot chief with French Border Police.
“We are talking about people on these boats. And what is most dramatic is that people are willing to take enormous risks.”
French police said that once boats enter the water they do not have the legal right to turn them back.
Record numbers of migrants are making the dangerous trip across the Channel to try to reach Britain despite the increased efforts in France.
The British government has given millions of pounds to French authorities as it tries to stop the migrant route from northern France.
On Saturday, more than 800 tried to cross the Channel, Britain’s Home Office said, which was a record for a single day.
French authorities, on the same day, intercepted a further 10 crossing attempts, preventing 193 people from reaching the UK.
In 2018, 286 people reached the UK. In 2019, it was 1,834, according to Peter Walsh Migration Observatory.
In 2020, the figure rose drastically to 8,486 and this year it is already at more than 10,000.