The new French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, and his British counterpart Priti Patel met on Sunday in Calais in the north of France, a region where migrants have traditionally gathered in order to find a way to get to in Great Britain.
“We have signed a new agreement to create a joint intelligence unit that will crack down on the gangs behind the smuggling operation,” Patel wrote on Twitter after the meeting.
She said they had discussed “unsustainable levels of illegal migration across the Channel”.
The Franco-British unit will allow the services to quickly share information and will be made up of six British and French police officers based in Coquelles near Calais, Darmanin told reporters.
The traffickers “are those who take advantage of the human plight of people who want to cross the Channel and who, presumably, are not being punished enough yet,” said Darmanin.
Attempts to cross the Channel have increased over the past year despite the danger of heavy shipping, strong currents and low water temperatures.
“Together, we must strengthen our security cooperation, particularly in the fight against illegal crossings of the English Channel by migrants risking their lives,” Darmanin wrote on Twitter when he greeted Patel.
In 2019, 2,758 migrants were rescued by French and British authorities while trying to cross – four times more than in 2018, according to French officials.
The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced the trend, with the reduction in the number of trucks passing through the Channel Tunnel leading migrants to opt for small boats.
French emergency services rescued 21 migrants in three operations on Saturday after their offers to reach Britain folded in the English Channel, officials said.
Darmanin said he told Patel that more resources were needed to combat trafficking in migrants.
“The British government has done a lot to protect the coast, but we still need more resources in terms of equipment and human resources. “