Record number of illegal migrants cross Channel to England

The UK has paid France £114m to stop migrants reaching Britain but the number of crossings has surged since last year

The number of migrants seeking to reach the UK’s shores in small boats reached a record high even as the British government outlined its vision for the “world’s most effective and efficient” border by 2025.

Helicopters patrolled the skies over the English Channel on Thursday to try to spot small craft crammed with migrants crossing to Britain illegally from France.

In 2020, more than 2,400 migrants have tried to cross the waterway, which narrows to about 34 kilometres. That tally is already a sharp increase on the number of migrants who tried to cross during the previous year, according to Migration Watch, a group that campaigns for tighter immigration measures.

It said 1,892 people tried to cross illegally into Britain throughout 2019.

The surge in numbers comes despite the UK paying £114 million (Dh533m) to France since 2015 for extra security measures on the northern French coastline to try to stem the flow.

The money has been spent on increased patrols, night-vision goggles, security cameras and increased aerial surveillance using drones but the number of arrivals has continued to increase.

Figures released by the UK government suggested that more than half of those detained in the first three months of the year were from Iran.

Officials said that those seeking to cross by boat represent only a small proportion of the undocumented migrants hoping to cross into Britain.

But tighter border controls because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the dangerous nature of the boat crossings in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes has drawn political and media attention.

Pictures emerged this week of hundreds of boats used in past crossings held in storage at a high-security warehouse in the port town of Dover.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel, following the lead of her predecessor, Sajid Javid, has repeatedly met her French counterpart to discuss migration between the two countries.

During the visit last week the two countries signed an agreement for an intelligence cell focused on criminal trafficking gangs.

But tensions remain high over efforts to stem the crossings. Julian Lewis, an MP formerly of the ruling Conservative Party, told Parliament last month that French patrol boats appeared to be escorting “dangerously overloaded inflatables” across the Channel until they reached UK waters so they would be taken to British ports.

The UK government pledged to return undocumented non-EU migrants to the European country where they first landed, under the terms of a 2013 agreement.

But other European countries took back only 7 per cent of migrants from about 19,000 requests made by the UK from 2015 to 2018, according to official figures.

On Thursday, the UK government began a consultation on its future border arrangements after leaving the EU.

It said it had an “ambitious vision to build the world’s most effective and efficient border over the next five years”.

“Serious and organised crime, including organised immigration crime, will continue to exploit border vulnerabilities with increasing levels of sophistication, particularly around the UK coastline,” it said.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said: “By taking advantage of our new independence, we will be able to get a proper grip on exactly who and what comes in and out of the country and give our dedicated Border Force personnel new tools to catch criminals, whilst improving the flow of goods to make the UK border the most effective in the world by 2025.”

Updated: July 22, 2020 09:14 PM

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