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British Home Secretary Theresa May and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve met Thursday in the northern French port of Calais, where they signed a new cooperation agreement that they hope will help get the area's migrant crisis under control.
An estimated 3,000 migrants currently live in Calais, camping out in makeshift settlements in the hope of crossing the English Channel. This summer has been particularly difficult for local authorities, as migrants have risked their lives trying to cross the Eurotunnel or by attempting to stow away aboard trucks and trains carrying cargo into the United Kingdom. Migrant advocacy groups have highlighted the worsening conditions for refugees and migrants.
May called the current level of collaboration between France and the UK "excellent," while stressing that the two have to continue working closely together.
"An essential step in our response to the migrant crisis"
Calais bolstered its police presence ahead of the meeting, during which May and Cazeneuve unveiled a new security measures. Police were also dispatched to the highway leading to the port in order to disperse migrants who wereblockingthe road.
The cornerstone of the deal will be the creation of a joint command and control center that will allow the two countries to better share information and coordinate their efforts.
Addressing reporters on Thursday, Cazeneuve said that French and British security forces would "work together on a daily basis" at the center. A joint statement issued by the two governments noted that the UK had pledged to fund several security initiatives, including added video surveillance and police searches of UK-bound trucks.
"It appears to be the same things that we were already promised last year," François Guennoc, who helps run the local migrants support group Auberge des Migrants (Inn for Migrants), told VICE News. "The governments have not changed their tune, even though the problem got bigger."
According to Guennoc, whose organization has been on the ground in Calais for eight years, the authorities are more concerned with securing the border than they are with the problematic humanitarian response to the crisis.
"The delays on asylum claims have never been so long," he said, predicting that September would be a very busy time for volunteers on the ground.
The two countries will focus on dismantling smuggling rings in the region as part of a plan to tackle illegal immigration from France to the UK.
"We are determined to put an end to this abject trafficking, which leads to human tragedies and deaths," said Cazeneuve. He also noted that fewer migrants had attempted to enter the Channel Tunnel in recent weeks.
Last month, Eurotunnel — the group that runs the cross-Channel rail tunnel linking Paris to London — asked the British and French governments to pay 9.7 million euros ($10.5 million) to help cover security costs after two migrants died attempting to cross the tunnel.
To improve security around the Channel Tunnel terminal, Eurotunnel has pledged to create 100 extra security jobs, an initiative that will be indefinitely financed by the British government. Some 2,000 migrants had reportedly attempted to reach the UK at the height of the recent crisis.
The UK government pledged a further 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to secure the terminal's perimeter. This latest contribution is in addition to the 10 million euro pledge announced by the UK at the start of August and an annual cash injection of 15 million euros ($16.8 million) to be renewed over three years.
The measures announced Thursday largely reflect thedemandsof France's SCSI-CFDT police union, which has described the situation in Calais as "explosive."
At the press conference in Calais, Cazeneuve said that he and May had also discussed the "humanitarian aspect" of the migrant crisis. While details of the humanitarian component of the deal have yet to be revealed, there is speculation that France will seek to implement the recommendations outlined in a government report from July, which include the launch of a program to house migrants somewhere outside of Calais by the end of the year.
In April, France opened the Jules Ferry migrant drop-in center — a government-run day center that provides migrants in Calais with meals, a place to wash, and access to a variety of basic services. The center houses nearly 100 women and children and is located not far from a large, makeshift migrant camp known as the Jungle.
"We are completely overwhelmed," a young Jules Ferry center employee who asked to remain anonymous told VICE News. "Some of the women here would rather go back to the Jungle because the living conditions inside our building our very difficult."
Following the meeting in Calais, Cazeneuve headed to Berlin to consult with his German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière to discuss Europe's migration policy.
De Maizière declared on Wednesday that Germany was ready to welcome up to 800,000 migrants this year.
"This is a challenge for us all," he said, "but the burden is not too heavy for Germany."
Follow Pierre-Louis Caron on Twitter: @pierrelouis_c