France Deploys Drones to Monitor English Channel Migrants

A Gendarme uses a drone during a training, as part of the visit of the French Interior Minister for the 50 years anniversary of the Gendarmerie National Training Centre in Saint Astier, on March 15, 2019. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)

The French government, in cooperation with the UK, has launched a number of airborne drones to monitor potential illegal immigration in the English Channel.

The planned deployment was announced by the prefect of the Pas-de-Calais region in January, and according to a press release this week, the drones are now ready to be used, La Voix du Nord reports.

“Eight gendarmes undertook drone pilot training, from March 11th to the 22nd,” the press release said and added that six drone pilots from Pas-de-Calais, alongside another two, would be able to support on-the-ground patrols as well as helicopters and vessels at sea to spot potential illegal migrants.

The number of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel saw a surge in December last year with 89 migrants intercepted by authorities within the period of December 23rd to the 31st.

On Christmas day alone, an estimated 40 migrants were picked up in the Channel in five different incidents beginning at 2 am. It was believed to have been the highest number of migrants to attempt the crossing and be intercepted in a single day.

Previously the gendarmes in the area, backed up by reservists, had access to thermal goggles, helicopter patrols, and other methods.

In December, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the Channel crossings a “major incident” and promised “an urgent call with his French counterpart over the weekend to reaffirm the continuing need for the UK and France to work closely together to tackle the problem.”

David Wood, a former Home Office official, claimed that smugglers were using the UK Border Force as a “taxi service” saying, “They know they don’t have to get right across the Channel and land, they can get half way across and the migrants will be taken the rest of the way.”

Follow Chris Tomlinson on Twitter at @TomlinsonCJ or email at ctomlinson(at)


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