Migration control: Drones now fly across the English Channel

1,700 migrants are said to have crossed the strait between France and Great Britain in small boats this year. Both governments therefore requested patrols with drones from the European Union next year. Until then, the border authorities will fly with their own aircraft.

The British Coast Guard will observe the English Channel with drones in the future. This is reported by the British BBC with reference to the British Ministry of the Interior. The government in London wants to prevent the crossing of migrants from France across the 30 kilometre wide strait to Great Britain. However, it is unclear which unmanned aerial vehicles will be used and which company was awarded the contract. The Ministry of the Interior refused to provide any information to the BBC.

The drones take off from the airport in the small town of Lydd and monitor the approximately 50 kilometres of Dover road. The national civil aviation authority has set up a restricted area for other air traffic between the cities of Eastbourne and Margate, which will initially be valid until 31 March next year. According to the authority, the corridor serves „national security“ and „the protection of human life“.

Great Britain supplies drones to France

According to official figures, at least 276 migrants arrived by sea in the UK in 2018 and 228 people were stopped by French authorities. Most of the crossings took place towards the end of the last year, when the British government declared a „major incident“ and sent two patrol boats from the Mediterranean Sea to the North Sea in addition to an already patrolling naval vessel.

According to the BBC, 1,700 people have crossed the Channel since then. In November the coastguard had stopped four boats with 39 passengers, two weeks later another five boats reached the island.

In addition to its own drones, the British government has also delivered drones to France to intercept migrants in French territorial waters. According to the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais, eight gendarmes were trained to steer small unmanned aircraft. Earlier reports said that the Home Office in London also wanted to provide the French authorities with radar equipment and video surveillance.

„Formal applications“ for EU drone missions

Franco-British cooperation is based on border control agreements signed by Belgium, France and the United Kingdom after the opening of the Eurotunnel. In 2003, France and the United Kingdom also signed the Le Touquet Treaty, which allows British controls on ferries from the mainland. The authorities of both countries work together in a joint coordination centre in the port of Calais.

Further drone flights over the English Channel will be financed by the European Union next year. Since last year, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has been providing services to European countries. To date, Iceland and Croatia have signed contracts with EMSA to monitor their coasts.

For 2020, France and the UK have also submitted „formal applications“ to EMSA for drone missions, as a yet unpublished attachment from the European Commission in reply to a parlamentarian question reveals.

Image: For the drone patrols, the Civil Aviation Authority has established a restricted area between the cities of Eastbourne and Margate (all rights reserved UK Civil Aviation Authority).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.