Dozens of people have been rescued by Home Office and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) vessels while trying to cross the Channel in small boats, officials have said.
Three boats, carrying 36 men, women and children, were intercepted in separate operations on Monday, according to the Home Office. The people rescued gave their nationalities as Iranian and Iraqi and were handed over to immigration officials after medical assessments.
The first rescue took place in the early hours. A Border Force cutter was sent to intercept a small boat on which 11 men were travelling. They told British officials they were Iranian and Iraqi and were brought to Dover.
In the second incident shortly afterwards, 15 people were found onboard a small boat off the Kent coast by the RNLI. They included men, women and children who said they were Iraqi and they were taken to Dungeness in Kent.
The third rescue was carried out by a Home Office coastal patrol vessel, which found nine men and one woman onboard a small boat. They said they were Iranian and were taken to Dover. The Home Office said it had not confirmed the nationalities of any of the people.
The rescues come nearly four months after the home secretary, Sajid Javid, declared a major incident in response to similar attempted crossings. At least 250 people were intercepted in the Channel between January and November 2018, and Javid made the declaration the following month.
“Anyone crossing the Channel in a small boat is taking a huge risk with their life and the lives of their children,” said a Home Office spokesman on Monday.
“Since the home secretary declared a major incident in December, two cutters have returned to UK waters from overseas operations, we have agreed a joint action plan with France and increased activity out of the joint coordination and information centre in Calais.
“It is an established principle that those in need of protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and since January, more than 20 people who arrived illegally in the UK in small boats have been returned to Europe.”
In January, Javid used similar language to strongly imply many of those making the crossing were not genuine asylum seekers because they had not sought asylum in France. He faced heavy criticism for appearing to suggest they should be deterred by making it harder to gain asylum in the UK.