In the fight against networks of human traffickers in the English Channel, the president of the Regional Council of Hauts-de-France has pleaded for stronger cooperation between France and Britain to end illegal immigration.
Brexit or no Brexit, the Franco-British collaboration must take a new direction. In an interview with Le Figaro, Xavier Bertrand, president of the Regional Council of Hauts-de-France wants to see action.
For him, the Touquet agreements, renamed Sandhurst in January 2018, are obsolete and “the migration crisis forces us to review this deal, because most of the burden rests on the police”.
Indeed, these agreements aimed to counter the rise of the phenomenon of illegal immigration in Great Britain, reinforcing controls from France. In particular, they allow the two countries to carry out border controls in the territory of the other, but also to establish “juxtaposed” immigration control offices at the ports located both on the English Channel and the North Sea.
The treaty also provides for the possibility for the British to return migrants who do not meet the admission requirements even before they have set foot on British territory. In return, the United Kingdom grants France financial compensation.
But for Xavier Bertrand, “the imbalance is obvious” and “these agreements only offer the best deal of the century to our English friends”.
Bertrand added: “Their financial compensation is clearly insufficient because the real cost is tens of millions of euros, sometimes more.” For him, the solution lies in “a form of Franco-British brigade to improve efficiency.”
Even though the former mayor of Saint-Quentin willingly admits that “there are undeniably fewer migrants in the Calais or Dunkirk in 2015 and 2016,” he told Le Figaro that “there are still too many illegal migrants today and especially too many traffickers”. And the president of the Council of Hauts-de-France also directly challenged the British for their lack of professionalism. “The action on the British side is far below what should be done,” he said.
To remedy this, “we must involve the French defense industry and their British partners to participate in the protection of our border,” he said. For him, the equipment must be of better quality: “The drones that were set up to monitor the coast and infrastructure must be more sophisticated and more effective,” he explained.
Bertrand concluded: “Brigades that circulate in the Channel and not only drones that monitor the land”, but above all, better “cooperation” in police matters and justice.
There was a sharp rise recently in the number of migrants being picked up by UK authorities while trying to cross the English Channel in small vessels. UK Home Secretary Savid Javid said that the situation was “of grave concern”.
After leading a cross-government meeting on New Year’s Eve, he announced that two Border Force cutters would be redeployed from the Mediterranean to the Channel. He also appointed a “gold commander” to oversee the crossing.
Some 230 migrants had tried to cross the Channel in December, with just under half prevented from leaving the country by the French authorities.
Mild weather and calm seas may have led to more attempted crossings, while traffickers could have been trying to exploit the holiday period, where there may have been fewer border staff on duty than usual, Sky News reported.
The Home Office released figures citing 539 attempted migrant crossings in 2018, with around 80 percent of them in the last three months of the year. Of the total number of attempted crossings, 42 percent were intercepted by French authorities before they were able to make it to the UK.
After French interior minister Christopher Castaner spoke to Javid by telephone, he wrote on Twitter: “In touch with my British counterpart Sajid Javid. We are co-ordinating to strengthen our actions to combat Channel crossings undertaken by certain irregular migrants on small boats, at peril of their lives.”