France has been forced to close its canals and rivers because human traffickers use them as “taxi boats” to transport migrants over the English Channel.
The French government has begun mooring buoys across rivers to prevent smuggling gangs from eluding French police and border guards on the beaches.
Criminal groups have been transporting empty “taxi boats” down rivers, streams, and canals to the sea and sailing them around the northern French coast to meet migrants at established meeting spots to ferry people across the Channel.
The French government’s reluctance to interfere once the boats have set sail has been exploited by proponents of the technique, who believe that doing so may imperil lives. The French have been unwilling to assist since the migrants must wade into the Mediterranean to board the “taxi boats.”
Instead, the French have used a network of buoys to build a floating barrier in the estuaries of rivers such as the Authie and Canche, which flow into the English Channel from up to 40 miles south of Calais.
The frequency of successful Channel crossings by small boats is said to have decreased by 22% this year as a result of the tactic and increased shore patrols.
Since Rishi Sunak signed a three-year, £478 million deal with French President Emanuel Macron in March to stop the crossings, the number of officers on foot or in buggies on French beaches has more than doubled, reaching over 800 every night.
When human traffickers began using the “taxi boat” approach last autumn, the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, is alleged to have pressured the French to limit the rivers and canals.
“When we did this in another location, it had a significant impact and is pushing smugglers south west, which is less easy terrain for them, which partly explains the consistently lower numbers,” a source added.
To bypass the French police’s main strategy of punching boats with knives to keep them from leaving the shore, “taxi boats” from the sea have also been employed.
Surveillance equipment has been installed in 12 communities and four ports along a 100-mile stretch of northern France’s coast, with more to follow in 2024.
Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, assists the French police by conducting patrols in the region using infrared and thermal cameras equipped planes and drones.
However, once the boats are at sea, the French have a policy of not interfering unless a dinghy is in trouble and the migrants are deemed to be likely to collaborate, something the traffickers are well aware of.
Observing ships in action
British lawmakers have urged the French to follow Belgium’s lead, which has reduced the number of border crossings by 90% to less than 1,000.
The joint UK-According to top Border Force officials, French patrols with the potential to turn back boats at sea in French waters would render the crossings unviable and shatter the business model of people traffickers.
Officials, on the other hand, have approved of the obstruction strategy. According to a Home Office source, the yearly decline in the number of illegal border crossings by migrants is 22%, despite significant increases elsewhere in Europe.
The “agile deployment of smart barriers and infrastructure,” such as that recently erected on canals, which disrupts people smugglers and pulls them away from their preferred routes, has been linked in part to a fall in the number of boats successfully leaving French territory.
This year, 509 vessels carried about 24,000 refugees and migrants across the English Channel. Smugglers’ earnings have grown as boat capacity has increased, with boats now carrying between fifty and seventy migrants. With just 8,410 in 2020, the number increased to 45,755 in 2022, a record-breaking growth.
This year’s 22% decline can also be attributed to a 90% fall in the number of Albanian migrants crossing the Channel as a result of the government’s agreement with Albania on a fast-track deportation accord. Ministers anticipate a similar reaction if the government’s plans to deport Rwandans are supported by the Supreme Court this fall.