UK, France seen striking migrant deal, Med states seek new rules

COP27 summit in Sharm El-Sheikh

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain and France are set to agree a deal possibly as soon as Monday to ramp up their joint efforts to stop illegal migrants from making perilous crossings of the English Channel, a British newspaper reported on Saturday.

The agreement will significantly increase the 200 French officers and volunteers who operate on Channel beaches and France will aim for a "much higher" proportion of migrants to be prevented from leaving, the Telegraph newspaper said.

France will agree to a joint control centre where British immigration officials will be stationed, it said.

On Friday, British foreign minister James Cleverly and French counterpart Catherine Colonna issued a statement stressing the "urgency of tackling all forms of illegal migration." British officials have said a deal is close.

British and French government officials declined to comment on the reports on Saturday.

The Express newspaper said a deal could be signed in the next week and was likely include more British drones to detect migrants hiding in sand dunes before they attempt the dangerous crossings often in flimsy dinghies.

So far this year, about 40,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats, up from 28,526 last year, putting pressure on new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to find a way to slow the flow.

Separately, four southern European states complained on Saturday they were forced to bear the brunt of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and called for changes in European Union policy.

Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta said in a joint statement it was unfair that they were expected to harbour people rescued by charity boats as they tried to cross from Africa, and responsibility should be shared more widely across the bloc.

The private charity vessels often flout agreed international norms, the countries' interior and migration ministers said, requesting a "serious discussion on how to better coordinate these (rescue) operations in the Mediterranean."

The statement follows a heated spat between the Italian and French governments which culminated on Friday when a charity-run ship carrying around 230 migrants docked at France's southern port of Toulon after being turned away by Italy.

The four countries said the states whose flag is flown by the rescue ships should take full legal responsibility for the vessels.

(Reporting by William Schomberg in London and Gavin Jones in Rome, additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Editing by Ros Russell)