The interior ministers of France and Britain on Sunday signed an agreement creating a new joint police intelligence unit to combat migrant traffickers and reduce the "unsustainable" numbers crossing the Channel illegally.

France's new Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and his British counterpart Priti Patel met on Sunday in Calais in northern France, a regio where migrants have traditionally gathered in a bid to find a way to get to Britain.

"We signed a new agreement to create a joint intelligence cell which will crack down on gangs behind vile people smuggling operation," Patel wrote on Twitter after the meeting.

She said they had discussed "the unsustainable levels of illegal migration across the Channel."

The Franco-British unit will allow services to share intelligence quickly and will consist of six British and six French police officers based in Coquelles outside Calais, Darmanin told reporters.

Traffickers "are those who take advantage of the human distress of people who want to cross the English Channel and who, no doubt, are not being punished sufficiently at the moment," said Darmanin.

Priti Patel and Gerald Darmanin
Priti Patel and Gerald Darmanin signed an agreement to share intelligence in the fight against migrant traffickers trying to cross the Channel. Photo: AFP / DENIS CHARLET

Channel crossing attempts have increased over the last year despite the danger of heavy maritime traffic, strong currents and low water temperatures.

"Together, we must strengthen our security cooperation, in particular in fight against the illegal crossings of the English Channel by migrants risking their lives," Darmanin wrote on Twitter as he hosted Patel.

In 2019, 2,758 migrants were rescued by the French and British authorities while trying to make the crossing -- four times more than in 2018, according to French officials.

The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced the trend, with the reduced number of trucks going through the Channel Tunnel leading migrants to opt for small boats instead.

French emergency services rescued 21 migrants in three operations on Saturday after their bids to reach Britain floundered in the Channel, officials said.

Darmanin said he had told Patel that more resources were needed to combat the migrant trafficking.

"The British government has done a lot to protect the coast but we still need more resources both in terms of equipment and human resources."

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