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Number of incidents of migrants trying to cross Channel ‘deeply concerning’

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes’s comments came as nine people were intercepted on a beach in Kent after being spotted in a small boat.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the number of incidents was ‘deeply concerning’ (Nick Ansell/PA)
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the number of incidents was ‘deeply concerning’ (Nick Ansell/PA)

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

And a senior police officer warned that attempted crossings are likely, organised by callous people smugglers.

The 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”.

People should 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 Caroline Nokes

“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.”

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Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke said the Home Office and National Crime Agency did not appear to be on top of the problem (Rick Findler/PA)

Chris Hogben, head of the Invigor taskforce, said:  “Trying to cross the Channel in this way is highly dangerous.

“While some of these attempts appear to have been opportunistic, we do know that there have been organised criminals with a complete lack of regard for human life involved in organising many of them.

“As part of the overall response to these attempts the NCA-led organised immigration crime task force is working closely with law enforcement partners in the UK and France, as well as upstream in Europe and further afield,to gather intelligence and disrupt such networks.

“Our assessment is that more of these types of attempts to reach the UK are likely. The organised criminals behind these most recent attempts are in the main not UK-based, but we can say that we are having an impact on them through our close co-operation with the French authorities.

“As a result of that co-operation a good number of attempted crossings have been prevented and only last week three suspected facilitators were arrested and charged in France. They will face trial in the new year.

“This work will continue, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to bring people smugglers targeting the UK to justice, whether they are operating in the UK itself or France.”

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A Border Force patrol boat at the Port of Dover (Gareth Fuller, PA Wire)

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 (4.8km) 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.

Tory MP Charlie Elphicke said it is “time for deeds, not words” to tackle the situation.

“The Home Office need to take this problem more seriously and step up resources along the Kent coast – with more cutters and patrol craft,” the Dover and Deal MP added.

“We need to see more investment in stronger borders, all the way along our coast.

“We are seeing a big increase in numbers as Iranian migrants are paying vast sums to people traffickers to get them across the Channel.

“The criminal gangs behind this need to be caught and brought to justice before these craft leave the French coast.

“If the French fail to act they risk the return of the Calais Jungle and Calais once again becoming a trafficking centre.”

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