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France, Britain to build Calais migrant crisis command and control centre


british tunnelBritain and France were to announce a new “command and control centre” Thursday for tackling smuggling gangs in Calais, where thousands of migrants desperate to cross the Channel are living in slum-like conditions.

The northern French port has dominated the British media this summer as refugees make endless attempts to enter the Channel Tunnel and reach Britain, some paying for it with their lives.

Making her first trip to Calais since the crisis, which first made headlines in 1999, British interior minister Theresa May was due to sign a new accord with her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve.

As part of the deal — due to be signed around midday — the Home Office said Thursday that British police officers will be deployed to Calais to combat gangs smuggling migrants and refugees across the Channel.

Led by one British and one French senior commander, the officers will work in a “command and control centre” to be built near the Eurotunnel entrance, the Home Office said ahead of May’s visit.

The deal includes extra French policing units, additional freight searches, and making the railhead in Calais more secure through fencing, security cameras, flood lighting and infrared detection technology.

It will also boost humanitarian assistance for the migrants in a bid to ease the desperate conditions in Calais.

Some 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are camped in Calais attempting to get to Britain, where many already have family and work is perceived as easier to find.

At least 10 people have been killed since June trying to make the crossing.

France and Britain have tried to present a united front, but the issue has strained ties with politicians in London criticising security failings, Paris complaining it is too easy for migrants to work illegally in the UK, thus luring them to its shores.

– ‘More fencing, more dogs’ –

Keith Vaz, who chairs a parliamentary body scrutinising the work of May’s ministry, welcomed the agreement but warned there was already evidence of greater “illegal activity” at other Channel ports in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“Closing off one route will only mean the problem moves to another port,” he said.

“We need agreements with countries across the north coast (of Europe) to stop this situation developing before we see Calais-like crises spring up at ports across the continent.”

Britain has pledged £22 million (31 million euros, $34 million) so far towards improving security at the French end of the Channel Tunnel.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised “more fencing, more resources, more sniffer dog teams” to aid French police.

Tighter security has pushed up prices for migrants and refugees paying smuggling gangs to sneak them across.

“Getting into a lorry cost 500 euros just a few months ago, now it’s 800-900 euros because there are so many more police and sniffer dogs,” NGO worker Francois Guennoc told AFP.

Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel said the number of attempts to breach the undersea rail link had fallen to around 150 a night this week, from a high of 1,700 in late July. The number includes multiple attempts by the same refugees.

The numbers trying to reach Britain are a tiny fraction of those entering other European countries, particularly Germany, which said this week it expects a new record of 800,000 asylum seekers in 2015 — far more than the 500,000 initially expected.

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Sunday that the issue could become a bigger challenge for the European Union than the Greek debt crisis.

EU border agency Frontex on Tuesday reported a record high of 107,500 migrants at the European Union’s borders last month.

And the number of migrants arriving in crisis-hit Greece is accelerating dramatically, with nearly 21,000 landing on the overstretched Greek islands last week alone, the United Nations said.

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