British police will be deployed to Calais to target people-smuggling gangs as part of a new agreement aimed at alleviating the ongoing migrant crisis at the French port.
In the first visit to Calais by a UK government minister since the crisis escalated at the start of the summer, home secretary Theresa May will travel to the town on Thursday to confirm a joint declaration with Bernard Cazeneuve, the French minister of the interior.
Their deal will see officers from the UK based in a new command and control centre in Calais alongside their French counterparts and Border Force personnel.
The work of the police contingent will be led by two senior commanders – one from the UK and one from France. They will report regularly to May and Cazeneuve on the extent of immigration-related criminal activity on both sides of the Channel.
Officials said the move was aimed at disrupting organised criminals, who attempt to smuggle migrants illegally into northern France and across the Channel into Britain, by ensuring intelligence and enforcement work is more collaborative.
Britain and France will also work jointly to ensure networks are dismantled and prosecutions are pursued, sources said. Fresh measures included in the new agreement include:
- The deployment of extra French policing units and additional freight search teams, including detection dogs
- The investment of UK resources including fencing, CCTV, flood lighting and infrared detection technology to secure the Eurotunnel railhead
- The tightening of security within the tunnel itself, with Eurotunnel helping to increase the number of guards protecting the site
- The creation of a new “integrated control room” covering the railheads at Coquelles
- A security audit to be carried out by specialist French and British police teams to underpin the design of the improvements.
The British government has already pledged £22m aimed at improving security at Calais, where thousands of migrants have attempted to stow away on vehicles waiting to cross the Channel or on trains passing through the Channel tunnel.
Up to 5,000 migrants are estimated to be in the French port, with at least nine people known to have died trying to make the journey into Britain since June. At the height of the crisis in late July, an estimated 2,000 attempts to break into the port terminal were said to have been made on two successive nights.
Previous talks involving the British prime minister, David Cameron, and the French president, François Hollande, led to a string of measures to improve security – including extra fencing, more search teams, additional CCTV cameras, infrared detectors and floodlights. These seem to have abated the crisis, with sources revealing last week that the number of migrant attempts had fallen.
Last weekend, Cameron intensified his language by stating that many migrants attempting to get into Britain were doing so for economic reasons, and that he was determined to make sure the border was secure. “They are economic migrants and they want to enter Britain illegally, and the British people and I want to make sure our borders are secure and you can’t break into Britain without permission,” he said.
However, concerns have been raised that closing off openings at Calais will prompt migrants to attempt to make the crossing by different routes. Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, welcomed May’s visit to Calais, but added: “We must be aware of the dangers of the domino principle. Closing off one route will only mean the problem moves to another port.
“There is already evidence of more illegal activity around Dunkirk, Zeebrugge and the Hook of Holland. We need agreements with countries across the north coast to stop this situation developing before we see Calais-like crises spring up at ports across the continent.
“This remains an EU problem. If we do not take control urgently, by the end of the year we could easily see the number of migrants reaching Europe equivalent to the populations of both Malta and Luxembourg combined.”
The situation at Calais is part of a wider migration surge into Europe, mainly from north Africa and the Middle East. On Tuesday, the EU border agency Frontex reported a record high of 107,500 migrants at the European Union’s borders last month.
However, Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee programme director, said Europe could not avoid “the biggest global refugee crisis” since the second world war. “When Theresa May goes to Calais she should drop the ‘tough’ rhetoric on refugees and start talking about how the UK can save lives and protect the vulnerable,” he said.
May and Cazeneuve will visit the site around the Eurotunnel rail terminal in Coquelles, before Cazeneuve travels to Berlin to meet his German counterpart Thomas de Maizière for talks on Europe’s migration policies, the French interior ministry said.