France beefs up anti-smuggling agency after migrant deaths

France's interior minister says France will double the number of officers in charge of fighting smugglers after 27 people died last week trying to cross the Channel to get Britain in an overcrowded smuggling boat

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 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 personnel, 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."

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

“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 re-admissions," Darmanin said.

Darmanin 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 a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Tuesday to detail the French 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.

France is carrying out an organized crime investigation into the sinking last Wednesday. Darmanin said two people survived the tragedy, coming from Sudan and Iraq. According to 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, Fernand Gontier, said the Iraqi survivor arrived in the EU after boarding a plane from Syria to Belarus.

European Union 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.

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