LONDON – The governments of France and Britain scrambled to respond Sunday to a mounting number of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel, a trend illustrated by six Iranian men who turned up on a beach in southeastern England.
The recent increase in migrants departing France in small boats with England as their destination led to an urgent telephone call Sunday between French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and British Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
The two European countries "are coordinating to strengthen our actions to combat Channel crossings undertaken by certain irregular migrants on small boats, at peril of their lives," Castaner wrote on Twitter.
Britain's Home Office, which oversees immigration, said the two ministers agreed to an "enhanced action plan" and plan to meet again in January. The office did not provide details on what the plan entails.
The six Iranian men were discovered on a beach in Kent along with a rigid-hulled inflatable boat they are believed to have traveled in from France, British officials said. Border agents were called to the beach on Sunday morning.
The men received medical checks and were turned over to immigration officials for processing, the Home Office said.
Javid said he cut short an overseas holiday because of the growing number of such incidents. On Christmas Day, about 40 migrants were rescued while traveling from northern France to southern England in a number of small inflatable craft.
He warned that it was only a matter of time before people died in the water and declared the crossings to be a "major incident," a designation that allows the government to quickly mobilize various agencies.
The crossing is risky because of rough seas and a high volume of commercial and ferry traffic. It is often extremely difficult for the captains of large cargo ships to see and avoid small inflatable boats with a handful of people on board.
British officials blame organized crime gangs for the recent surge in migrants being launched toward England. Channel crossings were not a major problem in recent years but started to increase in November.
Many of the boats are leaving from the area around Calais, a French port city that has long been a magnet for migrants fleeing conflict or poverty in Africa and the Mideast.
French officials two years ago closed a makeshift camp that swelled to a population of 10,000 at one point as people waited to try to hop trucks taking rail ferries or trains to England.