France calls on EU border agency Frontex to provide air surveillance of crossings

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France has urged the EU border agency to provide drones and other air surveillance across the English Channel in a bid to stop migrants making the perilous journey to the UK.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he has asked Frontex to take action along the EU’s northern borders, where thousands of migrants attempt the dangerous sea crossing from France to the coast of Britain each year.

“We need European air surveillance. I myself have contacted Frontex, which is predominantly taking care of southern Europe, and asked them to deal with northern Europe, too, particularly the coastline of Nord-Pas-de-Calais,” he said on Saturday during a trip to the French port town of Calais, according to the AFP news agency and Reuters.

“Sixty percent of migrants who come here, come via Belgium. So, our spectrum must be very wide,” he added.

Mr Darmanin said more than 5,000 police officers have been deployed “in the fight against immigration”, adding: “We will increase these numbers.”

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Mr Darmanin and Home Secretary Priti Patel announced an agreement last week to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches for the second time in a year to prevent illegal migration and stop small boats from departing France.

As part of the deal, the Government will give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings, with French officers to patrol wider areas of coastline across the northern coast between Boulogne and Dunkirk and patrols will be expanded further north-west around Dieppe. Mr Darmanin has said this will include more personnel, aerial surveillance, and technical strategies, “such as the use of drones, thermal cameras, night-time binoculars, adapted vehicles”.

On Sunday, 378 migrants were detained by the UK authorities in 12 incidents with 178 others being stopped from reaching English shores by the French in five further incidents, according to the Home Office.

The migrant crisis reached boiling point last week when the number of people who had crossed to the UK so far this year up to Tuesday had reached 8,452 – exceeding the figure for the whole of 2020. Last year, 8,417 people had made the trip, according to data analysed by the PA news agency.

Many migrants pay people smugglers to help them through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in overloaded rubber dinghies. Figures obtained by i reveal the full extent of the “small boats” crisis being driven by organised criminal networks, where waves of “economy class” boats are sent as decoys before they launch fast “first class” dinghies. 

Ms Patel said on Sunday: “The British public should be in no doubt of our unwavering determination to stop these dangerous crossings from safe EU countries and take down the evil criminal gangs behind them.”

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.

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