Crossings to the UK: EU police to install hidden cameras on French and Belgian beaches

With several police actions, the riparians of the English Channel want to prevent unwanted crossings of migrants. German authorities plan internet campaigns against the sale of inflatable boats and engines. After Brexit, the UK is taking part in these measures funded by the Council of the EU.

Up to 27,000 people may have crossed the English Channel into Britain without passport checks this year alone, tripling their numbers from last year. Crossings in rubber dinghies sometimes take place several times a day and usually very early in the morning, with popular departure points being the French coasts of Bray-Dunes and Dunkirk on the Belgian border.

Britain and France had already concluded several agreements on joint migration control. The government in London recently paid 63 million Euros for the expansion of French patrols, the further doubling of police forces deployed there, comprehensive surveillance technology also in the air as well as floating barriers at port facilities and estuaries. In light of the accident with 27 deaths this Wednesday, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is demanding even more efforts from French President Emmanuel Macron.

Police operation against rigid-hull inflatable boats

Together with Belgium, the two countries are also joining forces for the coming year in a „Small Boats“ police operation to jointly monitor the areas. The agencies Frontex and Europol are also taking part. First, the authorities want to prepare situation reports and analyses on networks of „smugglers“. Information is obtained from paid informants and on-site observations. For this purpose, the investigators install cameras „hidden in landscape“ on the beaches and dunes.

The „Joint Operational Team“ (JOT) is funded through the Council’s EMPACT mechanism. With it, the governments of the member states motivate their police authorities to cooperate more across borders. The primary objective is to „fight criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling“. The focus is to be on those „those whose methods endanger people’s lives“.

The „Small Boats“ working group targets structures suspected in the Netherlands and Germany, among others. Also at the recent accident in the English Channel, the rubber dinghy used is said to have been bought by a „smuggler“ in Germany. The reason for this might be that it is now difficult to obtain the necessary watercraft along the English Channel. France has regulated the sale of rigid-hull inflatable boats in Normandy. Many migrants therefore cross the Channel in inflatable leisure boats. At least 336 people have died there yet, not counting those who are missing.

In spring, authorities from France, Belgium, Germany, Romania and Great Britain also conducted the joint police operation „Zodiac 1“. The title stands for the French manufacturer of the worldwide sold rigid hull inflatable boats of the same name. In the action, three people were arrested for allegedly buying relevant equipment and life jackets in Calais.

„Strategic communication campaign“ to disrupt supply chains

In addition to „Small Boats“, the UK and Germany have agreed on another police action. The aim is to disrupt supply chains for small craft and engines if they are „intended to facilitate migrant smuggling“. All types of inflatable boats are of interest, as well as „other boats“ and equipment and life jackets.

To this end, manufacturers and sellers are being approached and persuaded to cooperate. They are to draw attention to the problem in notices. There, the frequently used boat and motor types as well as the modus operandi of the escape helpers are described and tips are requested. Any „suspicious activities“ are then to be reported to the police.

Finally, the German and British authorities are planning a „strategic communication campaign“ in social media. This is to warn potential migrants and sensitise the population to the „threat“. These „disruption initiatives“ on the internet are not limited to the English Channel. The description of the police action names other problematic „migrant routes“ as rivers such as the Danube and the Mediterranean. There, the EU had already decided in 2017 to impose an embargo on the unlicensed export of inflatable boats and outboard motors to Libya, which, however, proved to be useless.

Image: Channel Rescue (Twitter).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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