French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he has asked the European Union border agency Frontex not to neglect Europe's northern coastline in the fight against illegal immigration.
"I myself have contacted Frontex, which is predominantly taking care of southern Europe, and asked them to deal with northern Europe, too, particularly the coastline of Nord-Pas-de-Calais," he told reporters on Saturday during a visit to the port of Calais in northern France, a point from which many migrants try to cross the Channel to reach Britain.
"Sixty percent of migrants who come here, come via Belgium. So, our spectrum must be very wide. We need European air surveillance," Darmanin said.
Since the end of 2018, an increasing number of migrants have tried to cross the Channel to Britain, defying warnings from the authorities of the dangers of such a journey, given the high density of traffic, the strong sea currents and the cold temperatures.
Darmanin welcomed a deal reached last week by France and Britain, under which London has pledged just under 63 million euros in 2021-2022 to help France stem the flow of illegal migrants crossing the Channel.
France has promised to beef up security forces along the coast.
"We already have more than 5,000 police officers and gendarmes in Pas-de-Calais, a large number of whom are involved in the fight again immigration. We will increase these numbers," Darmanin said.
On Sunday, eighty migrants, including 20 children, were rescued as they tried to reach England in two separate boats, French authorities said.
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Rescue services were first contacted "by a boat of migrants reporting difficulties", then by a merchant ship which informed them "of another boat of migrants adrift to the north of Calais", the Channel maritime prefecture said in a statement.
A patrol boat was then sent to the scene which rescued 80 people from the two boats.
In total, "80 shipwrecked people (42 men, 18 women, including one pregnant woman, and 20 children) were brought to the port of Calais. They are all safe and sound".
French gendarmes also discovered 52 migrants early Sunday morning on a beach in Dannes, also in the north of the country. They had returned to land after an "engine failure" of their boat, the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais told the news agency AFP.
Last year, more than 9,500 crossings or attempted crossings were recorded, four times as many as in 2019, according to the French authorities.
Out of these, six people died and three were reported missing last year, compared with four deaths in 2019.