Migrant Channel crossings: Sajid Javid cuts short Christmas break as more people come ashore in Kent

Home secretary says it is of ‘grave concern’ people are attempting the perilous crossing 

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 30 December 2018 15:16 GMT
Group of migrants from Syria and Iran rescued from English Channel before being treated for hypothermia

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France and the UK have agreed to ramp up action to deter migrants from making the treacherous journey across the English Channel in inflatable boats.

The “enhanced action plan” – agreed to by the home secretary Sajid Javid and his French counterpart – came as border officials were called on Sunday morning to attend to a group of six Iranian men who had arrived on a beach in Kent.

They were the latest of several dozen individuals to arrive on UK shores in recent days, raising concerns about the dangers and safety of those making the crossing.

After cutting short his family’s Christmas vacation to deal with what he described as a “major incident” on Friday, Mr Javid agreed with the French interior minister Christophe Castaner to increase joint patrols and surveillance.

Mr Javid had come under increasing criticism from Labour and some Conservatives, who accused him of being “slow to respond” and telling him to “get a grip” of the situation.

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Javid and his family had been staying at a luxury safari hideaway in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, before he returned to London on Sunday.

In his call, Mr Javid assured the French interior minister of the UK’s commitment to supporting his country’s efforts to tackle the problem, including by supplying personnel and equipment.

The two men agreed on the need to “ramp up” co-operation and will meet face to face in January to assess whether further action is required, the Home Office said.

Mr Javid will chair a meeting on Monday to discuss further action with senior officials from government departments and agencies, including Border Force and the National Crime Agency.

Labour’s Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, however, said Mr Javid has still to explain “how the government plans to handle these mass criminal operations in British workers”.

She continued: “The Home Office’s flawed strategy has been to focus on deterring refugees, thinking that the issues in the Mediterranean would never reach our shores.

“While the Tories wax lyrical about control of our borders and being tough on security, they cannot seem to get a grip on criminal smugglers operating on a few hundred miles of coastline, in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.”

Mr Javid also came under fire from Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, who told The Sunday Telegraph there has been a “lack of leadership to get a grip of the issue”.

“They have not got a grip on it,” he said. “What we have got is unsatisfactory and somebody has to do something. Ultimately the buck stops with the home secretary.”

Mr Javid declared the situation a “major incident” on Friday, appointing a “gold commander” to oversee the situation and give daily updates.

He said on Saturday: “The situation in the Channel is of grave concern, with people gambling their lives in reckless attempts to reach the UK in unsafe boats and treacherous conditions.

“It is vital we strike a balance between protecting them and protecting our borders, ensuring we do not encourage more people to make this dangerous journey.

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