Britain risks tragedy in the Channel under current migrant policy

Former head of Immigration Enforcement warns crossings will continue if UK doesn’t return migrants to France

This image provided by the Marine Nationale (French Navy) shows migrants aboard a rubber boat after being intercepted by French authorities, off the port of Calais, northern France, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018. French authorities have rescued eight migrants, including two children, whose engine failed as they tried to sneak across the English Channel to Britain. (Marine Nationale via AP)
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More than 80 migrants on around ten boats have attempted to cross from the French coast to Britain since Christmas Day, with 34 either being stopped in the English Channel or apprehended on beaches in Kent on Thursday alone.

The increase in numbers over the holiday period has prompted the former head of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, Britain’s interior ministry, to warn that the problem will continue grow unless migrants are returned to France as soon as the arrive in the UK.

He also cautioned that there could soon be tragedies occurring in the Channel such as take place frequently with migrant boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

Currently the British border force is transporting migrants who they intercept on the crossing to Dover or other ports, where they are then processed by immigration officials.

David Wood told the Daily Telegraph: “We have to stop this or it will grow and grow. It will escalate. The answer is to return them to France as soon as they are picked up. If we did that straight away, they would realise that paying £5,000 to the people smugglers would achieve nothing.

“As far as organised crime is concerned, it's de-risked their business.

“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,” said Mr Wood, who became director general of Immigration Enforcement in 2013 after more than 30 years working at the Metropolitan Police.

“Given that the immigrants travelled from France, it would not be unlawful if the French agreed. In theory, under the Dublin agreement, there are circumstances when immigrants can be returned to France even when landed in the UK.

“Britain's border force, coastguards and lifeboats are being used as a taxi service for the migrants. There will be a hue and cry when a boat full of 12 migrants sinks and they die.”

In developments on Thursday, nine migrants including children were detained on a beach in southeastern England after they crossed the Channel in a small inflatable boat, according to immigration officials said.

The Home Office said Thursday the migrants found off the coast of Kent, a county southeast off London, in a boat were five men, one woman, two boys and a girl.

They were intercepted by the local lifeboat station which says they had sailed in a small inflatable boat powered only by a 10-horsepower engine. Fourteen other migrants were found on beaches or off the coast around Dover.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the latest wave of people attempting to cross the channel is putting lives at risk. She said that Britain and France were working together to try to stop the crossings. The English Channel crossing is perilous because of high seas and frequent commercial shipping and ferry traffic.

A further rescue operation on Thursday also took place after up to eight people were believed to have been spotted on an inflatable vessel near another section of the English coast. They were subsequently taken into custody by immigration officials.

British officials also say all the migrants picked up in recent days have received medical aid.