Sun. Sep 24th, 2023


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Puncturing migrants’ dreams – Surveillance success in stopping small boats

3 min read

A people smuggling dinghy lies slashed to pieces on a Calais beach, its remains a sign of French success in halting Channel crossings.

Daily Express investigators have now seen first hand the massive combined effort of the UK and France to stop illegal boats.

Our team watched as French authorities deployed undercover surveillance teams, high-speed beach buggies, drones and spy-planes to stop boats launching.

It is thought France is now intercepting around 53 percent of crossings. But critics say their bolstered efforts are still not enough, while some migrants insist they will keep trying to cross.

Britain has agreed to pay France £500million to bolster patrols and surveillance techniques over the next three years.

The Express team saw much evidence of their initial success this week as we watched a group of around 50 migrants.

As they boarded a free bus to the port of Gravelines, they were secretly under surveillance by French police who followed in an unmarked van. As they arrived by the beach, the migrants were met by armed officers, who spoke to them for about 20 minutes.

Moving on to another beach site, the group were again thwarted by the presence of French patrols, high-speed two-man beach buggies on standby at key points, spotter planes scanning the coastline and dozens of drones flown by police pilots. A French patrol vessel also waited just offshore for any dinghies that managed to launch.

Our team saw French police intercept another group, with many turning back at the beach. But many migrants are vowing to return and attempt another crossing.

Ghulan Rabani, 21, from Kabul, Afghanistan, told us: “When the police stop us, we are afraid. We are in shock. They have big smoke guns. The drones were up around us all night. We will wait to try again. Until that time, when we get to London, we will keep trying.”

Ghulan was travelling with his sister and her three young children. The young man described the ruthless smugglers sending them to sea as “good people”.

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Former Border Force chief Tony Smith said: “It’s clear the French police are investing much more time and effort in tracking the migrants and disrupting the smuggling gangs on the French coastline.

“This, coupled with closer working relationships, is contributing to a greater number of interceptions on the French side.”

Kevin Saunders, former chief immigration officer for Border Force at Calais, said: “The French are spending the money we have given them. They are working for their money. It is much more cat and mouse. This is why they are spreading out even more.”

But Tory MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke said: “From hiding in sand dunes to jumping on the bus going to the beach, the migrants are making a mockery of French efforts to stop them.

“It’s crystal clear that the French aren’t doing enough. We have to ask why they aren’t using thermal imaging in the dunes or even taking the simple step of stopping the bus from taking migrants from the camps to the beaches in the first place. You have to wonder how serious they are about stopping the boats.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our work with the French is vital to preventing the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings.

“Together we prevented nearly 33,000 crossings last year, and between January and May 2023 more small boat migrants were intercepted by France than have reached the UK’s shores. French interceptions this year are more than double what they were two years ago.”

The total number of Channel crossings so far this year stands at 9,328 in 211 boats.

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