Number of migrants crossing English Channel to reach UK 'deeply concerning', immigration minister says

'Some of this is clearly facilitated by organised crime groups while other attempts appear to be opportunistic,' Caroline Noakes says

Thursday 27 December 2018 16:48
One migrant dinghy was intercepted by French authorities in the English Channel
One migrant dinghy was intercepted by French authorities in the English Channel

The number of incidents of migrants crossing the English Channel as they try to reach Britain is "deeply concerning", the immigration minister has said.

Her comments came as nine people, including three children, were intercepted on a beach in Sandgate, Kent, after they were spotted in a small 13ft (4m) inflatable boat. This incident follows more than 40 migrants, presenting themselves as Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan, who tried to cross the Channel towards the UK on Christmas Day.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the number of incidents was "deeply concerning".

"Some of this is clearly facilitated by organised crime groups while other attempts appear to be opportunistic," she said. "We are in close and continual contact with the French authorities and law enforcement partners including through the new UK-France Coordination and Information Centre which opened in Calais at the end of last month to tackle criminality at the border.

"Attempting to cross the Channel in this way is extremely dangerous and they are putting their lives at risk. People should also be in no doubt that Border Force and the Police Aux Frontieres are working together 24 hours a day to prevent attempts, protect life and prosecute offenders. At the same time, the UK's NCA-led Organised Immigration Taskforce is working to stop people smuggling at source."

Littlestone lifeboat station manager Matt Crittenden said they were called at around 12.40am on December 27 to reports of people in a small inflatable boat, three miles off the coast at Sandgate.

Joined in the rescue effort by a lifeboat crew from Dover and a rescue Coastguard helicopter, the people were eventually discovered on the beach.

Border Force officials were deployed, and the Home Office said all nine migrants - five adult males, a woman, two boys and a girl - were detained.

Mr Crittenden described the boat the migrants used to cross the Channel in as 13ft (4m) long with a very small 10-horsepower engine on the back.

"I am sure it won't be the last that we go to ... they are very desperate people," he added.

A crew from Dover lifeboat station was also dispatched after up to eight migrants were spotted on a craft by the Spirit Of Britain ferry, with Border Force officials also assisting with that operation.

Migrants, including children, were picked up in five separate incidents in the early hours of Christmas Day morning, with some attempting to make the crossing in dinghies.

On Boxing Day, British officials confirmed that three more migrants were intercepted after attempting to take a small boat across the Channel.

The crossings follow a number of migrant rescues in recent months involving people trying to reach Britain via the Channel.

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Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke urged the authorities to "get a grip", as he said the Home Office and National Crime Agency did not appear to be on top of the problem.

The Dover MP said more than 100 migrants have "broken into Britain" in recent weeks.

"Our volunteer lifeboat crews are being called out nearly every day, even during Christmas," he said earlier this week. "The British and French authorities must get a grip and find and stop the traffickers behind these crossings before there is a tragedy in the English Channel."

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