Migrants rescued from sea as 100,000 cross English Channel in five years

Lifeboat crews find people in the water as milestone number is breached

Powered by automated translation

Lifeboats were scrambled to rescue migrants who fell into the English Channel on Thursday, as statistics suggest 100,000 people have now arrived in Britain on small boats in the past five years.

The RNLI lifeboat charity said it launched boats from several stations to assist the coastguard.

In a statement released to The National, it said: “This morning all-weather RNLI lifeboats from Dover, Ramsgate and Dungeness, along with Littlestone RNLI’s inshore lifeboat, were tasked to an incident in the Channel by HM Coastguard.

“On arrival at the scene, some casualties were found to be in the water. All casualties are believed to be accounted for and were brought to safety by the RNLI’s volunteer crews.”

The news comes as the number of migrants who have arrived in the UK on small boats appears to have hit 100,000.

As of Tuesday, about 99,960 crossings had been recorded by the Press Association since records began on January 1, 2018.

A further 250 migrants were brought to shore in Kent on Thursday morning, according to several news reports, bringing the total number of illegal crossings in the past five and a half years to 100,210.

The milestone sheds new light on the crisis and places added pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to fulfil his pledge to “stop the boats”.

On Thursday a witness described seeing women and children among a group of about 40 people on a lifeboat off the coast of south-east England on Thursday morning. One woman was carrying a small child in her arms, they said.

Tory MP Esther McVey said the government had “failed to solve the problem” of illegal migration but not through lack of trying.

Referring to the plan to deport illegal migrants to Rwanda, she told GB News: “I think the government is on the right lines: if you come here illegally you’ll be sent back home, if that’s possible, and if not you’ll go to a third country.

Dr Peter William Walsh, senior researcher at the University of Oxford's Migration Observatory, told The National: “There's no magical solution to stop small boat arrivals and little evidence that deterrence policies like Rwanda or the Illegal Migration Act will either work or be cost-effective.

“So the issue is more about how much honesty there is about the unlikeliness of the small boat issue being resolved any time soon.”

He said the latest “data only tells part of the story” and the number of migrants who have arrived in the UK could be much higher.

“Interestingly, total detected irregular arrivals in the period have exceeded 150,000 – so small boat arrivals are two thirds of the observed picture and probably less because detection rates are lower for other routes, such as lorry arrivals.”

Tony Smith, the former head of the UK’s Border Force and now a global security consultant, told The National it was unlikely the government would ever be able to stop the small boats.

He said the 100,000 figure was “not a great landmark day because people in the UK are fed up with it”.

“They want the boats to be stopped and were led to believe the boats will be stopped but I’m not sure the boats will ever be stopped completely,” said Mr Smith, managing director of Fortinus Global.

“It was a bit of a bold political statement by the Prime Minister saying he wanted to stop the boats.

“I can understand the government saying to the electorate they wanted to stop the boats but I think that probably the more realistic ambition would have been 'we’ll do everything we can to reduce the numbers coming across the English Channel.'”

He said any success in lowering numbers was contingent on the plan to send migrants to Rwanda but the government is waiting on a Supreme Court ruling on its legality.

Under the Rwanda plan, people found to have arrived in the UK without a visa or other permission to enter the country would be sent to the West African country to have their asylum claim processed and determined there.

“If that gets kicked out in the Supreme Court, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said.

The Court of Appeal decided in June that the Rwanda policy was unlawful but last month it gave permission to the government to appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court.

A Home Office representative said the “unacceptable number” of people entering the UK illegally via the Channel is placing an “unprecedented strain on our asylum system”.

“Our priority is to stop the boats, and our Small Boats Operational Command is working alongside our French partners and other agencies to disrupt the people smugglers,” the representative said.

“The government is going even further through our Illegal Migration Act which will mean that people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.”

Meanwhile, asylum seekers this week moved on to the Bibby Stockholm barge off the Dorset coast after the plans were beset by delays.

It has been moored at Portland as an accommodation vessel to house people seeking asylum in the UK, while their applications are processed.

The Home Office on Wednesday announced a new migration deal had been signed with Turkey.

Law enforcement agencies in the two countries will work together to disrupt the supply chain of boat parts used by people smugglers.

An estimated 80 to 90 per cent of vessels used to transport illegal migrants across the English Channel come from Turkey.

But critics of the pact were quick to pour cold water on the government's tactics to stamp out illegal migration.

Rob Lawrie, a podcaster who researches the work of people smugglers in Europe, told The National the latest deal would have a minuscule effect because smuggling gangs would be able to evade the authorities.

“The only effect it will have is on the British taxpayer,” he said.

“These smuggling networks are highly organised, professional and sophisticated.”

On Wednesday, the UN agencies for refugees, children and migration released a joint statement saying more than 40 people had died in a migrant shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The metal boat overturned during bad weather last Thursday night.

Four people survived the incident.

Updated: August 10, 2023, 3:19 PM