France is planning to deploy more police at the border with Belgium to stem the flow of migrants and asylum-seekers, with the interior minister saying half of those crossing the Channel to the UK come via that route.
Gerald Darmanin said security measures would be boosted amid growing concerns the route is being abused by cross-Channel people traffickers.
More than 17,000 migrants are thought to have arrived in the UK after making the dangerous trip across the Channel in small boats launched from northern France.
And Mr Darmanin suggested that at least 8,000 of those could be stopped at its neighbour’s borders.
“Fifty per cent of migrants who want to cross from Calais and Dunkirk come from Belgium,” he said during an official visit to the two French cities over the weekend.
“I have asked the prefect to deploy control personnel along the entire Belgian border, to arrest smugglers and migrants who want to leave Belgium to arrive in the north of France, in order to drain the well.
“This strategy has proven its worth. We ask our Belgian friends to do the same on their side.”
An inflatable craft carrying migrant men, women and children crosses the shipping lane in the English Channel in July
Credit: Dan Kitwood
/Getty Images Europe
Eleven boats with 364 migrants on board crossed the English Channel to reach Kent on Sunday, the Home Office said. French authorities also stopped 16 vessels, preventing over 500 further migrants from making the crossing.
It follows 40 boat crossings on Friday and Saturday which saw 1,115 people make the journey. More than 4,500 people on 160 boats successfully made the journey across the English Channel from France last month, suggesting there has been no let up in the number of people attempting the dangerous crossing.
In recent years, Belgium has emerged as one of the key routes used by people smugglers looking to transport migrants illegally into the UK.
Many migrants make the crossing from busy commercial ports like Zeebrugge and Ostend, hidden in lorries, arranged for them by traffickers.
Others decide to make their own way from the Belgian coast to the shores of France, from where the crossing to Kent is considerably shorter.
On the visit to Calais to inspect efforts to tackle illegal immigration, Mr Darmanin also called for more cooperation with other European Union countries to stem the flow of migrants.
French authorities arrested 120 people traffickers and detained 4,000 people trying to cross the Belgium-France border in September, he said.
But Annelies Verlinden, the Belgian home affairs minister, hit out at the implication that the country is not doing enough.
“I don’t think any country benefits from pointing at each other and looking for a culprit,” She told broadcaster VRT.
“It’s no use pointing the finger at each other. We must find a solution to this problem of transmigrants together, because this requires European collaboration and coordination.
“Just holding neighbouring countries responsible is – as far as I’m concerned – not the solution.”
French gendarmes patrol the beach of Tardinghen, northern France, to prevent migrants attempting to cross the English Channel illegally.
Credit: SAMEER AL-DOUMY
The British and French governments have worked together unsuccessfully for years to prevent cross-Channel migration.
In order to curb arrivals in France, Mr Darmanin has proposed the creation of more EU-funded migrant camps in southern Europe, modelled on Greek centres with barbed wire fences and watchtowers, to house people as they arrive in the bloc.
He also announced France would champion new EU-UK negotiations for a migration treaty, an element of cooperation excluded from the post-Brexit relationship.
He said: “We need to negotiate a treaty, since Mr Barnier did not do so when he negotiated Brexit, which binds us on migration issues.”
“We are asking the southern EU countries to do as the Greeks have done, to control the external borders more closely and for other countries to accept a system of solidarity,” he added.
Paris will use its take over of the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, during which it has a key role in the bloc’s decision-making processes, to reinforce its external borders and broker a migrant deal with Britain, France’s interior minister said.
Member states, particularly those on the Mediterranean coast, resisted an EU-UK pact on migration during last year’s future relationship talks, because it would have likely allowed Britain to return asylum seekers to the country where they first entered the bloc.
Belgium was one of only a few EU countries that supported the concept of a separate agreement to tackle the issue of cross-Channel migration.