UK appoints new commander to stop migrant boats

More than 4,000 people have reached the UK in 2020 by crossing the waterway from France in small boats

A Border Force boat goes out to meet a cutter outside the southern British port of Dover. AFP
A Border Force boat goes out to meet a cutter outside the southern British port of Dover. AFP

The UK has appointed a former marine to head efforts to stop small boats carrying migrants crossing the narrow waterway between France and its southern coast after the arrival of record numbers in 2020.

Calm seas and warm weather have led to an increase this month in attempts by migrants to cross the English Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, despite millions spent on measures aimed at limiting the people smugglers who are believed to control the trade.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced the appointment of a “clandestine Channel threat commander” before further talks this week with French authorities.

“The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling,” she said. “We are working to make this route unviable and arresting the criminals facilitating these crossings and making sure they are brought to justice.”

The numbers who have arrived in the UK via small boats across the Channel are more than double the numbers of last year.

The UK has paid £114 million (Dh533m) to France since 2015 for extra security measures on the northern French coastline including patrols, security cameras and increased surveillance. It is not illegal for migrants to attempt the crossing to claim asylum in the UK.

Ms Patel – who has called for hardline immigration restrictions – has requested help from Britain’s navy to patrol the waterway to pick up boats and return those in them to France. France has reportedly asked for £30 million to help fund the patrols.

The French government declined to comment on the potential payment but confirmed it was in the final stages of drawing up a joint plan with Britain. The UK’s immigration minister Chris Philp is due in Paris for further talks on Tuesday.

France says that it has intercepted at least 810 migrants trying to cross the Channel to England since the start of the year, according to AFP, but the number who have crossed to the English side is five times that this year. More than 150 arrived on Saturday.

Dan O'Mahoney, a maritime security expert and former marine, was appointed on Sunday to co-ordinate efforts to limit the number of small boat crossings. “This role is vitally important in the fight to end the heinous crime of people smuggling across the Channel,” he said.

Published: August 9, 2020 06:00 PM

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