Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 October 2020

UK appoints ‘Channel commander’ as migrant boat crossings surge

Britain has talked tough about increase in crossings during recent warm weather

The British government on Sunday appointed a former marine to lead efforts to tackle illegal migration in the Channel ahead of talks with France on how to stop the dangerous crossings. AFP 
The British government on Sunday appointed a former marine to lead efforts to tackle illegal migration in the Channel ahead of talks with France on how to stop the dangerous crossings. AFP 

The British government has appointed a former Royal Marine commando to try to stop people crossing the English Channel from France in small boats.

The government said on Sunday that Dan O’Mahoney, head of the UK’s Joint Maritime Security Centre, has been appointed “clandestine Channel threat commander".

Home Secretary Priti Patel said Mr O‘Mahoney would work with French authorities on stronger enforcement, including intercepting boats at sea, “to make this route unviable".

Britain’s Conservative government has talked tough amid a surge in the number of migrants crossing the Channel during recent warm weather.

On Thursday, 235 people were brought ashore, a record number for a single day.

More than 650 have arrived so far in August, including babies and unaccompanied children.

Ms Patel has said the Royal Navy could be called in to prevent boats reaching the UK, al though other senior officials and politicians say that would be impractical and could be dangerous.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Defence said it had received a government request to “support UK Border Force operations” and was looking into how it could best help.

Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, either in lorries through the Channel tunnel or on ferries.

Some have turned to small boats organised by smugglers because coronavirus lockdowns have reduced opportunities to stow away on ferries and lorries.

Fine summer weather is also prompting more people to make the risky journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, which is about 32 kilometres at its narrowest point, in vessels as small as dinghies and kayaks.

The British and French immigration ministers are due to hold talks this week about the crossings.

Human rights groups have criticised the British government’s harsh talk and accused officials of trying to blame France for the rise in crossings.

Bridget Chapman, of the Kent Refugee Action Network, accused the government of “sabre-rattling”, and called for asylum seekers to be given legal ways to travel to Britain.

“That would close this route overnight, would save lives, and we would know exactly who was arriving and when,” Ms Chapman said.

Updated: August 10, 2020 02:29 AM

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