UK minister heads home over migrant boat issue
More than 200 people attempted to reach UK in small boats in the last two months
Britain’s Home Secretary faced demands on Sunday to recall patrol ships from humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean to deal with a sharp uptick in attempted migrant crossings to the UK.
Increasing political pressure forced Sajid Javid cut short his holiday to return to the UK with more than 90 people reportedly saved and detained in the narrow waterway between France and the UK since Christmas Day.
Mr Javid has declared the increase in migrant numbers a “major incident”.
People smugglers have told migrants that they should attempt to make the crossing to the UK before border security is strengthened after Brexit on March 29, 2019.
Most of those who have attempted the crossing in the past few days have come from Iran and Syria.
Six Iranians arrived on the south coast near Dover on Sunday, while two boats carrying 12 men were brought to shore on Friday.
Another 40 migrants were detected on Tuesday. Officials warned that more people are likely to make the crossings in the days ahead.
The UK has long been a popular location for migrants and refugees. The most popular route has traditionally been hidden in the back of lorries travelling on ferries that link Britain and France.
Security has been tightened at key locations in and around Calais where migrants have in the past congregated to try to get onto lorries for the final leg of the journey to the UK.
Groups working with migrants say the measures have led to organised crime groups encouraging people to take to small craft for the sea route.
More than 220 people are believed to have attempted the journey since November but nobody is believed to have died while crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Police said the smuggling efforts via lorry remained the most popular method to get into the UK.
Mr Javid was questioned about the increase in attempted migrant crossings in small boats in late November in which he spoke of potential plans to redeploy a patrol boat from the Mediterranean Sea.
Britain has five cutters operated by border officials with only two of them located on the southern English coast on Sunday, according to satellite tracking services.
Two others were in Mediterranean waters, one in Greece and one in Gibraltar, according to vesselfinder.com. The labour union which represents border officials said that the two ageing cutters available for patrol work were inadequate for the task.
The opposition has accused the government of a flawed policy that had been unable to stop smugglers from operating on the UK’s doorstep.
“There are five Border Force cutters – yet just two of them operate in UK waters, covering 7,000 miles of coastline,” wrote Charlie Elphicke, an MP from the ruling Conservative Party in the Mail on Sunday.
“In contrast, 600 cutters patrol the much shorter Italian coastline and 147 cover Spanish waters. That’s why all five cutters should be patrolling our coast, to help us catch the traffickers who many suspect drop off migrants in dinghies as soon as they enter British waters, then disappear.”
Mr Javid said that he was keeping the number of vessels under review. Police said they were working with colleagues in France to identify the groups involved in the smuggling operations.
“Working with our French partners we would anticipate further arrests over the coming weeks and also more attempts to reach the UK are likely,” said Chris Hogben of the UK’s National Crime Agency.
“The organised criminals behind these most recent attempts are in the main not UK-based, but through our close collaboration with French authorities we are still having an impact on them and their activity.”
Updated: December 31, 2018 09:17 AM