French beach patrols to double in bid to tackle Channel migrant crisis

Patrols on French beaches are being doubled in a bid to halve the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

A total of 45 officers a day on duty in teams of five will provide around-the-clock cover to meet the target by the end of October, an action plan published by the Home Office said.

The “immediate objective”, by the end of October, is to halve the number of migrant crossings accounted for over the summer and reduce it further by the end of December so that by the spring it has become an “infrequent phenomenon”, according to the pledges made in the document by the Home Secretary and French interior minister.

Millions of euros in funding could be used to tackle the problem – and once this is spent “additional UK support” may be needed to pay for resources, the paper said.

More “intelligence sources” will be sent out in France to gather information on organised criminal gangs behind the crossings, while migrants would be encouraged to stay in the country rather than travel to the UK with action being taken to “deter repeated attempts to cross the Channel”.

The agreement was made in August and details were eventually published on Tuesday.

In it, Priti Patel and Christophe Castaner vow to put into motion the “urgent action” they said was needed to stop the wave of crossings when they met.

The patrols are “crucial” to meeting the 50% reduction target and are believed by the UK and French Governments to be the best chance at having the most impact in preventing boats leaving the continent before crossing the water.

So far this year, UK authorities are thought to have intercepted more than 1,000 migrants.

The document frequently refers to the large numbers of incidents – but never commits in numbers how many crossings have taken place.

The Home Office has so far declined to provide an exact, up-to-date figure.

Loss of life at sea “is to be avoided at all costs”, the document made public a day after two migrants were found dead also said.

The bodies of two Iraqis were found washed up on a beach in northern France on Monday.

The pair – aged 17 and 22 – were discovered on the same beach at Le Touquet at different times of the day.

It is thought they were trying to reach the UK by boat. One was found near a small boat with two oars and a life jacket, according to reports.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts and sympathies are with the friends and families of those involved.

“An investigation into the circumstances is being run by the French authorities and we are ready to assist if required.”

The action plan said there would be “direct engagement and deterrence” by “debriefing teams” speaking to migrants on beaches and at camps about the “relative attractiveness of France compared to the UK as a destination for asylum seekers”.

A currently unallocated seven million euros (£6 million) made available as part of an agreement on UK-France co-operation known as the Sandhurst funding could be used “to meet the objectives set out”, but beyond this “further activities may require additional UK support”, the document said, adding: “Any additional funding intended to meet new challenges would be subject to a new agreement.”

The plan said “significant progress” had already been made, referring to “nearly all migrants at sea” being detected and escorted safely to the UK, while 700 were prevented from leaving France as well as spending two million euros (£1.75 million) on detection equipment for French forces.

But it said: “We face a persistent and evolving threat and the summer months have provided the conditions for a high number of crossings.

“There is therefore a clear need to reinforce the current cooperation measures to improve the prevention of successful migrant crossings and reduce human trafficking and the loss of human lives at sea.

“Improved results can only be attained by targeted additional investments and a clearer identification of operational solutions to the small boat problem.”

The Home Office declared the crisis a major incident under former home secretary Sajid Javid and pledged millions of pounds to tackle the crisis, dispatching the three cutters.

A plan drawn up in January included a £6 million investment in security equipment, CCTV coverage of beaches and ports and a mutual commitment to return migrants under international and domestic laws, the department said.

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