UK: Military requested to aid pushback of migrant boats crossing Channel

Britain has seen a surge of migrant and refugee arrivals over the English Channel from France

A group of migrants rest on the beach as they wait for Uk Border Force officials at Dungeness, southern England, Thursday Aug. 6 2020.  The British government says it will strengthen border measures as calm summer weather has prompted a record number of people to make the risky sea crossing in small vessels, from northern France to England. (AP Photo / Susan Pilcher)
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Britain’s armed forces have been asked to help stem the growing number of migrants and refugees arriving on boats across the English Channel.

The Ministry of Defence said on Saturday that it had received a formal request from the Home Office to assist the UK Border Force.

"We are assessing the requirements ... and are working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist," it said in a statement.

The UK has been scrambling to respond after a record 235 migrants crossed the English Channel into illegally on small boats on Thursday, followed by 130 on Friday.

The migrants and refugees crossing from northern France have taken advantage of the hot weather and favourable summer sea conditions to make the journey.

New record for illegal English Channel crossings

New record for illegal English Channel crossings

Many have crowded into overloaded rubber dinghies in scenes reminiscent of the height of Europe’s migrant crisis when thousands crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece in 2015.

Migration has been a touch-paper issue in the United Kingdom in recent years, with many voters backing the winning Leave campaign in the country’s 2016 referendum on EU membership to take back control of the country’s borders.

British government officials have hit out at France over the influx. Writing in the Telegraph newspaper, Home Office Minister Chris Philp put pressure on France ahead of bilateral meetings on immigration next week.

"The French need to stop these illegal migrants from getting in the water in the first place," he wrote, calling the arrivals “shameful”.

France's interior ministry has said surveillance teams on its northern coast were intercepting migrants daily, adding that it had mobilised extra resources. It said five times as many migrant boats had been caught between January and July compared with the same period in 2019.

According to The Times, France has requested £30 million in exchange for properly dealing with the migrants. Government sources told the newspaper ministers were "livid" with France for failing to stop the boats and accused Paris of trying to "milk" the UK.

About 4,000 migrants have reportedly crossed the Channel this year, more than double the total for the whole of 2019.

The numbers crossing the Channel are tiny compared with the flows of people who reach EU countries such as Malta, Greece, Italy and Spain every year by crossing the Mediterranean from north Africa or Turkey, with thousands dying on the way.