PARIS – France to double staff at smuggler agency after 27 people were killed trying to reach Britain in an overcrowded boat last week and will discuss with Britain how best to prevent migrants from making such dangerous crossings of the Channel, a French official said on Monday.
Speaking after a defense council meeting, Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin said the anti-smuggling office would be redesigned next year to work the same as against drug traffickers. He said the staff, currently at 123, will be doubled and that justice officials and staff from the foreign and finance ministries will join the office to give it “more muscle, not to say revolutionize it.”
As France and the UK accuse each other of not doing enough to tackle the issue of migrant smuggling, Darmanin also said the French government is open to talks with UK authorities to try to stop the Channel crossings.
“What we want is a balanced deal between the UK and the EU that offers real solutions to all problems,” Darmanin said.
He added that the situation in the city of Calais in northern France will be discussed by EU interior ministers next month.
Darmanin said a cooperation agreement with the UK should include the possibility that refugees can seek asylum in Britain.
“That way we can legitimately protect migrants who want to come to Britain. Britain can assess their asylum claims and then we can work on readmissions, ”Darmanin said.
Darmanin also urged the British authorities to allow more unaccompanied minors to join their relatives in Britain and to fight smugglers more effectively. He said French Prime Minister Jean Castex would write a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday detailing French demands.
European migration officials agreed on Sunday that the EU’s border agency would send a plane to monitor the shores of the English Channel looking for migrant activity after the deadliest migration crash on record.
France is conducting a criminal investigation into the sinking last Wednesday. Darmanin said two people survived the tragedy, coming from Sudan and Iraq. According to the survivors, he said, the migrants likely arrived in France via Belgium, Germany, Poland and Belarus.
Among the victims were “at least one pregnant woman and at least three children,” Darmanin said.
French border police chief Fernand Gontier said the Iraqi survivor arrived in the EU after boarding a plane from Syria to Belarus.
European Union officials have accused Belarus of state-sponsored “trafficking” by luring desperate migrants to the Polish border with false promises. Many are now stuck there in makeshift camps in freezing weather.
Follow all of AP’s stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.