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France zeroing in on smugglers

Agency to double numbers, rework water crossing policies by The Associated Press | November 30, 2021 at 4:25 a.m.
FILE- A police car parks over the shore in Wimereux, northern France, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021 in Calais, northern France. The price to cross the English Channel varies according to the network of smugglers, between 3,000 and 7,000 euros. Often, the fee also includes a very short-term tent rental in the windy dunes of northern France and food cooked over fires that sputter in the rain that falls for more than half the month of November in the Calais region. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

 

PARIS -- France will double the staff of the agency in charge of fighting smugglers after 27 people died trying to reach Britain in an overcrowded boat last week and will talk with Britain about how best to stop migrants from undertaking such dangerous English Channel crossings, a French official said Monday.

Speaking after a defense council meeting, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the anti-smuggling office will be redesigned next year to work in the same way as against drug traffickers. He said the staff, currently at 123, will be doubled, and justice officials and staff from the foreign affairs and finance ministries will join the office to give it "more muscle, not to say revolutionize it."


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As France and the U.K. accuse each other of not doing enough to tackle the problem of migrant smuggling, Darmanin also said the French government is open to holding discussions with British authorities to try to stop the crossings.

"What we want is a balanced agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union that offers real solutions to all the problems," Darmanin said.

He added that the situation in the northern French city of Calais will be discussed by EU interior ministers next month.

Darmanin said a deal would have to include the possibility that refugees can apply for asylum in Britain.

"In this way, we will be able to legitimately protect migrants who want to go to Britain. Britain will be able to assess their asylum claims, and then we will be able to work on readmissions," Darmanin said.

He also urged British authorities to allow more unaccompanied minors to join their relatives in Britain and to fight smuggling networks with more efficiency. He said French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today to detail the requests.

European migration officials agreed Sunday that the EU's border agency will send a plane to monitor the shores of the Channel for migrant activity after the deadliest migration accident on record there.

France is carrying out an organized crime investigation into the sinking. Darmanin said two people survived the tragedy, coming from Sudan and Iraq. According to the survivors, he said, the migrants probably 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.

The chief of France's border police said the Iraqi survivor arrived in the EU after flying from Syria to Belarus.

EU 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.

FILE- Life jackets, sleeping bags and damaged inflatable small boat are pictured on the shore in Wimereux, northern France, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in Calais, northern France. The price to cross the English Channel varies according to the network of smugglers, between 3,000 and 7,000 euros. Often, the fee also includes a very short-term tent rental in the windy dunes of northern France and food cooked over fires that sputter in the rain that falls for more than half the month of November in the Calais region. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh, File)
FILE- Life jackets, sleeping bags and damaged inflatable small boat are pictured on the shore in Wimereux, northern France, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in Calais, northern France. The price to cross the English Channel varies according to the network of smugglers, between 3,000 and 7,000 euros. Often, the fee also includes a very short-term tent rental in the windy dunes of northern France and food cooked over fires that sputter in the rain that falls for more than half the month of November in the Calais region. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh, File)

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