Theresa May arrived in Calais on Thursday morning to shake hands on a deal with her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, that will allow British police to be deployed on French soil in order to target people-smuggling gangs and help alleviate the migrant crisis.
The declaration signed by May and Cazeneuve includes a commitment from the UK of £3.5m (€5m) per year for two years and the establishment of an asylum processing centre “a significant distance from Calais” to “draw pressure away from close to the frontier”.
Speaking during a visit to the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles – which is now surrounded by two razor-wire fences after a £7m cash injection from the UK – May said other northern French ports such as Dunkirk were being assessed amid fears smugglers could shift their efforts elsewhere.
She also said that the immigration minister, James Brokenshire, had spoken to officials in Belgium and Holland and is expected to travel for further discussions about how to stop migrants being smuggled to the UK through different ports.
“We are very well aware of the possibility of displacement,” May said. “The immigration minister has already had discussions with the Dutch and Belgian authorities to look at ports there and whether work might need to be done there. Of course we are looking at other ports like Dunkirk.”
The British-French 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.
An “excellent level of collaboration” between the two governments had been achieved, said May. “We have already taken a number of steps that have started to improve the situation here in terms of numbers of people trying to access the tunnel and get through to the UK. But the work must continue.”
May restated comments from David Cameron, who last week said “a lot” of the migrants in Europe had travelled for “economic” reasons.
The home secretary admitted that among those living in squalid conditions and risking their lives attempting to jump on to moving trains and lorries in the French port town were some refugees but said there were “many, many economic migrants”.
She added that law enforcement agencies of both countries were working together to tackle gangs. “[The migrants] risk their lives, many of them having paid people-smugglers money to try to get them here to Calais and to the UK,” she said. “We must break these criminal gangs. We must break the link between leaving Africa and other parts of the world.”
The measures are aimed at disrupting organised criminals 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 in the 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.
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 said: “We must be aware of the dangers of the domino principle. Closing off one route will only mean the problem moves to another port.
Vaz said: “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 EU’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.
After Coquelles, May and Cazeneuve were set to visit the Jules Ferry reception centre, which sleeps 100 women and children. Cazeneuve will then travel to Berlin to meet his German counterpart Thomas de Maizière for talks on Europe’s migration policies, the French interior ministry said.