| 5.9°C Belfast

Migrants defy freezing weather in bid to cross English Channel

At least 15 vessels have tried to make the trip in one week.

Close

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Despite near-freezing temperatures nearly 200 migrants risked their lives to try and cross the English Channel in the past week.

Border forces on both sides of the channel have been alerted to small boats – at least 15 in total – making attempts to reach UK soil.

At least 180 migrants tried to cross from the continent to Britain between January 20 and January 26, according to figures from UK and French authorities.

This comes despite repeated warnings about the dangers of making the trip in a small boat.

The English Channel is the world’s busiest shipping lane, with 500-600 ships passing through the narrow strait every day.

Close

A French patrol boat (Marine Nationale/PA)

A French patrol boat (Marine Nationale/PA)

PA Media

A French patrol boat (Marine Nationale/PA)

What is more, air temperatures along the UK coast this week dipped as low as 1C (33.8F), data from the Met Office suggests.

The Home Office says it is “tackling illegal migrant crossings on all fronts with every agency” and working alongside their counterparts in Europe.

More crossings over the weekend brought the total number of migrants picked up by Border Force and brought to the UK in the last seven days to at least 94.

Tony Eastaugh, Home Office director for crime and enforcement, said: “We have extra patrols on French beaches, drones, specialist vehicles and detection equipment which has been deployed to stop small boats leaving European shores.

“And it’s working.

“Last year one hundred people smugglers were convicted for a total of 320 years.”

It is urgent and critical that the Government opens up more avenues for people to find safety here, including a long-term commitment to resettle 10,000 refugees every yearStephen Hale, chief executive at Refugee Action

On Saturday a Border Force vessel was alerted about 5.30am to a boat entering UK waters which was carrying a group of 26 males and two females who have presented themselves as Pakistani, Afghan, Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian nationals.

The group was taken to Dover in Kent, where they were to be medically assessed, before being interviewed by immigration officials.

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said alternative strategies are needed to tackle people smuggling.

She told the PA news agency: “If the Home Office’s strategy aims to prevent desperate people crossing the Channel to claim asylum, then it is clearly not working.

“Figures from the past week alone, show that despite freezing and treacherous conditions, growing numbers of people are risking it all to seek sanctuary in the UK.

“If this Government believes in following the evidence, it should evaluate its results and find alternatives that thwart people smugglers and ensure safe passage for those most in need.”

Stephen Hale, chief executive at Refugee Action, said the lack of safe and legal routes to refuge in the UK was “shocking”.

He said: “[It] is forcing desperate people fleeing violence and persecution to put their lives at risk to cross the Channel.

“It is urgent and critical that the Government opens up more avenues for people to find safety here, including a long-term commitment to resettle 10,000 refugees every year.”

PA