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Frontex plane arrives in northern France to help fight people smuggling

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By Euronews  with AFP
French police officers patrol on the beach in the searcher migrants in Wimereux.
French police officers patrol on the beach in the searcher migrants in Wimereux.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Louis Witter, File

The European Union border agency Frontex has sent a plane to northern France to help combat illegal migrant smuggling.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin confirmed on Twitter that the plane had landed in Lille on Wednesday.

Darmanin said that the aircraft would "reinforce aerial surveillance as part of the fight against illegal immigration in the Channel."

The minister added that France is doubling the number of security officials tackling illegal immigration.

The moves come one week after 27 migrants were killed in a shipwreck hours after their small boat left the coast near Dunkirk attempting to reach England.

European migration officials agreed on the new deployment at an emergency meeting last Sunday in the French port of Calais.

Frontex said in a statement that the Danish aircraft and crew were "very experienced" and had previously been deployed for other operations in Spain.

"The plane is equipped with modern sensors and radars to support border control at land and sea," it added.

"Onboard, there will be liaison officers from the relevant authorities to support the crew and facilitate quick and efficient decision-making."

The EU agency said that the plane would "support French and Belgian authorities" after Sunday's meeting.

Police and gendarmes 'doubled'

“The evolution of the situation in the Channel is a matter of concern," said Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri.

"Upon the request from the Member States, Frontex deployed a plane in France to support them with aerial surveillance in just three days."

“We are starting with one plane, but we stand ready to reinforce our support if needed,” he added.

Darmanin also stated on Wednesday that France would be "doubling" the number of police officers and gendarmes responsible for fighting illegal immigration.

The interior minister added that regional offices would be created to try and dismantle smuggling networks amid a rising number of attempted migrant crossings.

The number of migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats has jumped this year. Alternative routes have become all but impossible due to pandemic travel restrictions, and tighter security around ports and the Channel tunnel.

Brexit has also made it harder for the UK to deport migrants back to the EU as the country has left the bloc's asylum scheme.

Overall, however, the number of migrants arriving in the UK and claiming asylum is low compared with other large European countries.

Sunday's meeting saw ministers from France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands join officials from Frontex and the EU's law enforcement agency Europol. However, the UK did not take part after its minister was disinvited amid a diplomatic row with France.

On Thursday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex rejected UK proposals for joint patrols in northern France.

"We cannot accept, for example, that British police or military personnel patrol our coasts; our sovereignty is at stake," he stated in a letter to his British counterpart Boris Johnson.