Migrants dash to cross Channel amid calm waters

Almost 17,000 people have arrived in the UK on small boats since the start of the year

A lifeboat crew helps migrants on to shore at Dungeness on Wednesday, after they were picked up at sea while crossing the English Channel. AFP
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Several young children were among dozens of migrants who landed on a beach in the south-east of the UK on Wednesday after being picked up by rescuers while crossing the Channel.

The children, wearing jeans and jackets, some of them barefoot, were helped by volunteers to disembark an RNLI lifeboat on to Dungeness beach in Kent.

About 45 people of various ages were seen being handed bottles of water after they made it to land.

A heavily pregnant woman, who is understood to be Syrian, was waiting to board a coach with two children and a man.

On the same day, at least 100 people arrived at the port of Dover after being picked up by UK Border Force patrol when entering British waters.

Warm weather has led to an increase of small boats illegally crossing through busy shipping lanes from northern France towards the UK.

It is likely many were attempting to reach UK shores during a patch of relatively good weather before the end of summer and seas become rougher.

More than 1,500 arrivals have been recorded in the past week.

Migrants brought ashore on the Kent coast - in pictures

A number of reports said Border Force was put on “red” alert due to the number of arrivals expected in the coming days, with good weather predicted to continue into the weekend.

The Home Office in London declined to confirm whether border officials’ readiness had been increased.

The arrivals on Wednesday brought the total for the year so far closer to the 17,000 mark.

Britain and France have blamed criminal gangs for enabling the crossings but have attracted criticism from rights groups over their policies on the issue.

The route across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes has repeatedly proved perilous, with numerous boats capsizes and scores of migrants drowning in the waters over the past decade.

The years of arrivals have meant Britain's asylum system is facing a huge backlog, with more than 130,000 asylum seekers waiting for their applications to be processed at the end of March.

Official statistics from the government up to Monday show that 16,790 migrants have arrived in small boats since January 1.

No arrivals were recorded on Tuesday.

The government recorded 509 arrivals on 10 boats on Saturday, despite a tragedy in the Channel that same day when at least six people died and dozens of others were rescued after a boat got into difficulty off the coast of Sangatte, northern France.

All those who died were Afghan men, French officials said.

The fatalities did not deter people from making the risky journey in the days that followed.

On Monday, 111 people arrived in the UK after being plucked from two dinghies at sea.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the boats one of his top five priorities ahead of next year’s likely general election.

“The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system,” a Home Office representative said.

“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 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.”

This week he was warned that he must look beyond Britain's borders to find a solution to the small boats crisis.

Experts told The National that collaboration with Europe and further afield, including trying to cut off migrants at source by helping to improve conditions in their homelands, was the only way he would reduce illegal migration.

Updated: August 16, 2023, 5:03 PM