France Takes Steps to Curb Smuggling Across Channel After 27 Migrants Die Trying to Reach U.K.

In an attempt to curb smuggling across the Channel, France will double the staff of the anti-smuggling agency after 27 migrants died trying to reach the United Kingdom last week, a French official said Monday.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said justice officials and staff from the finance and foreign affairs ministries will join the agency to bolster it, giving it "more muscle, not to say revolutionize it." The office currently has 123 members, according to the Associated Press.

Darmanin said the French government is willing to discuss with British authorities about stopping the channel crossings.

"What we want is a balanced agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union that offers real solutions to all the problems," Darmanin said.

Any cooperation deal with the U.K. must allow for refugees to possibly apply for asylum in Britain, Darmanin said.

"In this way, we will be able to legitimately protect migrants who want to go to Britain. Britain will be able to assess their asylum claims, and then we will be able to work on re-admissions," Darmanin said.

Darmanin has asked British authorities to let more unaccompanied minors join their families in Britain, as well as combat smuggling networks with better efficiency. French Prime Minister Jean Castex will write a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, detailing the requests, Darmanin said.

Over this past year, over 18,000 people have crossed the channel to the U.K., twice the amount of people that crossed last year, BBC reported. Although officials have intercepted 820 boats trying to cross, 728 have been successful.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Migrants, France, United Kingdom, Channel
The price to cross the English Channel varies according to the network of smugglers, between 3,000 and 7,000 euros. A police car parks over the shore in Wimereux, northern France on November 25 in Calais, France. Michel Spingler/AP Photo, File

European migration officials agreed Sunday that the EU's border agency will send a plane to monitor the shores of the Channel for migrant activity after the deadliest migration accident on record.

France is carrying out an organized crime investigation into the sinking last Wednesday. Darmanin said two people survived the tragedy, coming from Sudan and Iraq. According to survivors, he said, the migrants probably arrived in France via Belgium, Germany, Poland and Belarus.

Among the victims were "at least one pregnant woman and at least three children," Darmanin said.

The chief of France's border police, Fernand Gontier, said the Iraqi survivor arrived in the EU after boarding a plane from Syria to Belarus.

European Union officials have accused Belarus of state-sponsored "trafficking" by luring desperate migrants to the Polish border with false promises. Many are now stuck there in makeshift camps in freezing weather.

Migrants, United Kingdom, France, Channel, Smuggling
Interior Minister Gerald Damanin said the French government is willing to discuss stopping the channel crossings with British authorities. In this photo, police officers evict migrants from a camp on November 28 in Calais, France. Louis Witter/Getty Images