The French government on Friday announced an “action plan” to counter attempts by migrants to cross the Channel to Britain by sea, which it has promised would end a phenomenon that has alarmed the Conversative government in London.
An increase in crossings by asylum seekers, mostly Iranians, has led UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to declare a “major incident,” with the government under pressure to provide a response.
“This plan should enable us to end these crossings,” French Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner was quoted as saying in a statement on Friday, adding that they were “not only illegal, but also extremely dangerous.”
“It’s in our interest, as well as the United Kingdom’s, to do everything to prevent new networks [of people smugglers] developing, which would likely attract irregular migrants to our shores again,” it added.
The plan would see stepped-up police patrols around ports where some migrants have attempted to steal boats, as well as surveillance of beaches where dinghies have been launched from.
A Royal Navy ship was patrolling the Channel on Friday in addition to four other British coast guard boats that watch over the 33km of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
France has doubled the number of coast guard boats in the Channel to two to four per night depending on the weather, a spokeswoman for French marine operations in the area told reporters.
The new French measures would be in addition to a joint action plan announced on Monday by the French and British governments, according to the statement from the interior ministry.
Castaner is to travel to London soon to discuss the joint plan, which is expected to include combined operations at sea and greater intelligence sharing about smuggler networks.
Earlier on Friday, French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had downplayed the phenomenon of sea crossings in the Channel by comparing the number of arrivals in Britain with the number of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
“We are not talking about the same level at all,” Griveaux said.
A total of 504 people, the vast majority in the past two months, attempted to cross the Channel to Britain last year, with 276 successful in reaching British waters, according to the latest figures from the interior ministry.
Data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees showed that 55,756 people crossed the Mediterranean to Spain last year.
“There is no requirement to increase any further the resources there [on the Channel coast] which are working very well and are proving their worth,” Griveaux said.
Explanations for the sudden spurt in sea crossings vary.
The weather in the past few months has been unusually calm, security officials have said.
However, Fabien Sudry, the top security official in the northern Pas-de-Calais region, told reporters that the most likely reason is the arrival over the past month of larger-than-usual numbers of Iranians around the port of Calais.
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