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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

Royal Navy vessel to patrol English channel for migrant boats

HMS Mersey has been sent to the area, although it is not yet clear which government department will pay for the cost.

Mr Javid said the extra Border Force ships would balance protecting human life with protecting Britain's borders. AFP
Mr Javid said the extra Border Force ships would balance protecting human life with protecting Britain's borders. AFP

A Royal Navy vessel is on its way to the English Channel to assist the British Border Force as the number of migrants crossing the body of water between the UK and France by boat increases.

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid asked the country’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson for assistance in a letter on Wednesday evening, to which Mr Williamson has responded by dispatching HMS Mersey, the Financial Times reported.

HMS Mersey is an offshore patrol boat which is usually deployed to monitor fishing boats and trawlers to prevent illegal fishing, the Royal Navy says on its website. The ship’s new role will be to patrol the English Channel, using it’s radar equipment to spot small craft.

The boat is expected to remain in the role at least until two border patrol boats, named “cutters”, return from their current posting in the Mediterranean.

The government says 312 migrants used small boats to cross the channel from France in 2018. The latest boat, according to local media, carried 12 people who arrived on the south-east coast in a small boat.

The numbers are minimal compared to the thousands regularly attempting to reach European Union territory by crossing the Mediterranean from northern Africa and Turkey, but Mr Javid declared the uptick in small boat crossings “ a major incident”, returning from a holiday early to deal with the issue.

News of Mr Javid’s appeal for assistance comes just hours after he faced criticism for questioning the refugee status of those using boats to come across the Channel. On a trip to Dover to visit UK Border Force operatives he said, “a question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country you arrived in?” he said.

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Read more:

Britain deploys extra patrol boats as migrant crossings rise

Britain mulls cutting Mediterranean migrant mission

Britain risks tragedy in the Channel under current migrant policy

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The backlash to Mr Javid’s comments came quickly. “Let us not forget that we are talking about people who are in desperate need of protection, having fled countries with prolific human rights abuses,” said Dr Lisa Doyle, Director of Advocacy at the Refugee Council.

“What is more, we are hearing time and again that the conditions in France do not make people feel safe, with migrant camps being razed from the ground and people experiencing violence from the authorities.

"It’s a shame that the Home Secretary seems to need reminding that seeking asylum is a right and the UK has an obligation to assess claims fairly and grant protection to those who need it," she said.

Wednesday also saw the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) arrest two people on suspicion of arranging illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into Britain.

A 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester, the NCA said in a statement late on Wednesday. The statement did not give further details.

Updated: January 3, 2019 06:14 AM

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