France and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement to create an intelligence cell to crack down on gangs facilitating illegal crossings and people smuggling.
U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel met the new French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on July 12 to discuss how the two governments can do more to tackle illegally-facilitated Channel crossings by small boats.
It was the newly appointed French Interior Minister’s first meeting with an international counterpart. Both ministers reiterated their determination to stop the crossings and bring the ruthless criminal gangs behind them to justice. The Home Secretary and M Darmanin reaffirmed their shared commitment to returning boats in the Channel to France, rather than allowing them to reach the UK. Through a Declaration of Intent, it was agreed that a Franco-British Operational Research Unit to combat migrant smuggling will be established.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “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 U.K. 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.”
More than 2,400 people have crossed the English Channel from France in small boats this year. And just as the Home Secretary was signing the Declaration with France on Sunday, some 200 migrants attempted to reach U.K. shores in small boats. It is not yet known how many of these individuals managed to reach England. Two Border Force vessels, the Dover lifeboat and a U.K. Coastguard aircraft launched a search and rescue operation alongside French authorities. To date, the largest number of illegal migrants successfully crossing the channel in one day is 166, which was recorded in early June.
The new Operational Research Unit will collate, centralize and analyze operational intelligence to prevent crossings from taking place and to dismantle the gangs behind them. It will be staffed by French and U.K. officers and will feed into the already established teams working to end the illegally-facilitated crossings.
Both the Home Secretary and M Darmanin stressed that migrants should not risk their lives to reach the U.K., given France is a safe country with a well-run asylum system.
The Home Secretary also paid tribute to the work of law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Channel. In 2019 U.K. Immigration Enforcement made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions for a total of 437 years. Of these 259 arrests and 101 convictions were for people smuggling.
The Declaration of Intent heralds the start of a new operational approach between Britain and France as the former leaves the European Union (EU). The British government announced £705 million in border security investment on July 12, and unveiled its post-Brexit immigration plan on July 13. The new system will come into force on January 1 2021 and will end the freedom of movement agreement with the EU. It will be a points-based system which would reward high-skilled workers. There will also be provisions for workers in areas which the U.K. struggles to recruit sufficient numbers, such as healthcare.