Britain’s Interior Minister, Priti Patel, was meeting her French equivalent on Wednesday as the UK pressed France to help stop a surge of migrants trying to cross the English Channel in small boats.
Dozens of women, men and children were taken to shore on Wednesday in the south-east England port of Dover by British Border Force boats, after being picked up from dinghies in the Channel.
Thousands of migrants have landed on beaches in south-east England in recent days amid calm, summery weather, with 785 arriving on Monday, Britain’s Home Office said.
More than 12,000 have made the crossing this year, PA reported. In 2020, about 8,500 people made the journey, and several died in the attempt.
Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain.
They hide in lorries or on ferries, or – increasingly since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted international travel – board dinghies and other small boats organised by smugglers.
The British and French governments have worked for years to stop the journeys, without much success.
This year, Britain agreed to give France £54 million ($74m) to double the number of police patrolling French beaches. But Channel crossing numbers continue to soar.
The French Maritime Prefecture says that in the first seven months of this year, there were 556 “operations” involving 12,148 migrants trying to cross or crossing the Channel by boat.
That compares to 868 involving 9,551 migrants in all of 2020.
Britain has not yet paid the promised money and Ms Patel has suggested she could withhold it if France did not do more to stop the smugglers' boats from departing.
She will talk with French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin during a two-day Group of Seven interior ministers’ meeting in London, which begins on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said stopping the crossings depended largely on the French authorities.
“We depend to a large extent on what the French are doing," Mr Johnson told the British House of Commons.
"But clearly, as time goes on and this problem continues, we are going to have to make sure that we use every possible tactic at our disposal to stop what I think is a vile trade and a manipulation of people’s hopes."
Refugee charities said such tough talk was pointless, and urged the government to make it easier for asylum-seekers to safely travel to the UK.
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said Ms Patel should “reach an agreement with her French counterpart to develop a humanitarian visa that would give safe passage to those likely to be recognised as refugees in the UK".
French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, who represents the Calais region of northern France, said authorities there were doing all they could.
“The fact is, we’ve got 300 to 400 kilometres of shore to monitor every day and every night, and it’s quite impossible to have police officers every 100 metres because of the length of the shore,” Mr Dumont told the BBC.
“We cannot stop all the crossings. We need to address the causes of migration.”