The English channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Every crossing attempted by migrants, often in unsuitable and very small boats, is life-threatening for those on board. These attempts not only represent a hazard to other vessels but threaten the safety of the Border Force, coastguard and lifeboat crews who come to their rescue. The Government are committed to preventing migrant crossings in small boats. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary declared a major incident in December last year, and our heightened response remains in place.
In January, the Home Secretary met his counterpart Monsieur Castaner and agreed a joint action plan to tackle seaborne arrivals. He will be speaking to him again later this week. The joint action plan builds on the extensive work we have undertaken in partnership with France over the past few years, including under the 2018 Sandhurst treaty. It demonstrates the strength and depth of our bilateral relationship and both countries’ enduring determination to secure our shared border and prevent illegal migration through France. Through measures such as increased surveillance and co-ordination of our joint response via the joint information centre, the plan enhances our robust border security.
The solution is not all about increased surveillance in the UK but also about preventing vessels from leaving France in the first place. We have recently delivered drones and other surveillance equipment to France, enabling its law enforcement officers to intercept and disrupt attempted crossings. We continue to look at a range of tactical options that work on both land and sea. Those attempting to cross should be aware that their efforts will be in vain. Since January, more than 30 people who arrived illegally in the UK in small boats have been returned to France and other member states under the Dublin regulation. We have many more in the pipeline for return.
Finally, we are tackling the organised crime gangs who are exploiting vulnerable and desperate individuals. Only yesterday, a French court sentenced two men to prison for helping migrants to make the treacherous journey across the channel. The summer months and settled weather will present us with further challenges, but we will continue to work co-operatively with France to secure our borders and seek to prevent further crossings from taking place.