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Britain and France to speed up efforts to tackle small boat crossings

LONDON (Reuters) - British interior minister James Cleverly and his French counterpart Gerald Darmanin on Tuesday agreed to accelerate the deployment of aerial surveillance equipment aimed at reducing the number of migrants crossing to Britain in small boats.

In recent years tens of thousands of migrants have sought to reach Britain from France's north coast, making dangerous and sometimes fatal attempts to navigate one of the world's busiest shipping lanes in small rubber dinghies.

The influx of migrants has become a major political issue for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has pledged to "Stop the Boats", and pushed him to develop plans - currently mired in legal disputes - to deter migrants by sending them to Rwanda.

A statement issued by the British government after the latest talks in Paris said:

"The Home Secretary (Cleverly) and Interior Minister Darmanin welcomed plans to accelerate delivery of the March 2023 UK-France Summit agreement.

"These plans will expedite deployment of key aerial surveillance equipment, ensuring unprecedented levels of coverage to enable French law enforcement to intercept crossing attempts as quickly as possible."

The statement did not set out a timeline for the deployment.

Both Cleverly and Darmanin agreed to build closer ties in law enforcement and discussed convening a meeting of interior ministers from a group of northern European countries, called the Calais Group, on the topic of migration.

"(France and the UK) will also continue calling for a UK-EU agreement on migration issues so as to better manage illegal as well as legal migration," Darmanin said in the statement released by Cleverly's office.

(Reporting by Farouq Suleiman; editing by William James)