The number of illegal migrants trying to enter the UK increased during December after human traffickers claimed the country’s borders could close after after it leaves the EU.
Officials say gangs that smuggle people into the UK are telling migrants the window is closing to enter the UK in an attempt to drum up business.
More than 100 people have been rescued off the British coast since Christmas – 2,358 were intercepted in 2019 compared with 586 in 2018, The Sun reported.
Last week, French authorities rescued 31 people trying to make the crossing to the UK, including a pregnant woman.
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on January 31 and border controls are expected to become particularly strict under the pro-Brexit Conservative government of Boris Johnson.
“One of the drivers, we are being told, is that people smugglers are telling these folk that after Brexit, Britain will close in some way. Brexit doesn’t make a difference, but we do know that the criminals are using this to try to drive more business,” Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the UK Immigration Service Union, said.
She said similar increases occurred in March and October last year when the UK was supposed to leave the EU.
"Traffickers will say and do anything to drum up business. It is the job of the French and British authorities to stop them," Ms Moreton told the BBC.
“That’s why there needs to be a fresh approach where the British and French authorities jointly agree that anyone picked up in the Channel is returned to the safety of France and not brought into Britain.”
Only 125 migrants who entered the UK illegally last year were sent back to France.
“This would be the surest deterrent and the most compassionate thing to do,” Ms Moreton said.
On Boxing Day, 49 migrants from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan were stopped and taken to the UK.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel promised to take a hardline approach to human traffickers, who charge migrants thousands of dollars to take them from France to the UK.
“We are throwing the full force of the law at the organised crime gangs whose fake promises and lies deliberately put desperate people in real danger,” she said.
“When we leave the EU, the government will introduce tougher controls to clamp down on this ruthless trade.”