The Government’s immigration minister is visiting Dover after Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the rising number of migrants trying to cross the English Channel a “major incident”.
Caroline Nokes is meeting local MP Charlie Elphicke, who has called for more patrol boats in the Channel to tackle trafficking gangs, as well as Border Force officers to discuss the escalating issue which has seen a spate of attempts by migrants to cross to the UK during the festive period.
There have been calls for the Royal Navy to be sent in, with one MP warning that the crisis could otherwise become a “catastrophe”.
Mr Javid, who has asked for an urgent call with his French counterpart to address the problem, has cut short a family holiday to deal with the situation, Ms Nokes said today.
The Home Secretary has appointed a ‘gold commander’ to oversee the situation and has been briefed on the situation by officials in the Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the National Crime Agency (NCA).
But Independent MP and Commons Home Affairs Committee member John Woodcock said he should go further, telling The Sun: “The public is losing confidence in the struggling Border Force. It’s time to stop the rot by sending in the Royal Navy.
“If the civilian force can’t cope, the Navy must stop this crisis becoming a catastrophe.”
Another committee member, Conservative Tim Loughton, agreed, telling the paper: “There is a serious security implication, as this is a likely route undesirables who have been fighting in Syria will use if they want to return to the UK.
“Of course there is now a case for the Royal Navy to be brought in to do border protection in the Channel.”
On Friday, two boats carrying 12 men from Syria and Iran were intercepted while they tried to make the crossing and handed over to immigration officials to be interviewed.
On Christmas Day, more than 40 migrants tried to cross the sea and enter the UK.
Boxing Day saw three more migrants intercepted in a small boat, and on Thursday an inflatable boat carrying nine people was rescued by a lifeboat crew three miles off the coast of Sandgate in Kent.
Dover MP Mr Elphicke has called for a “clear strategy to defeat the traffickers”, saying: “Let’s start by bringing back our cutters to the English Channel.”
He called on the French authorities to step up their own efforts to stop trafficking networks and prevent people trying dangerous crossings.
When you have two cutters in operation to patrol more than 7,000 miles of coastline it’s no wonder more and more people are attempting this perilous crossing. It’s time to bring back our boats before there is a tragedy in the English Channel.https://t.co/DSvzArURMB
— Charlie Elphicke (@CharlieElphicke) December 28, 2018
Ingrid Parrot, spokeswoman for the French Maritime Prefecture for the English Channel, said the number of illicit crossings in small boats had increased from 23 in 2016 and 13 in 2017 to 70 this year the majority after the end of October.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Before 2018, we didn’t have smugglers. But now we have smugglers on the French coast and it is really a network.
“Before that it was not a network, it was individual migrants who were trying to cross. Now it’s a network, a criminal organisation.”
Lucy Moreton, a spokeswoman for the Immigration Services Union, said Border Force staff feel they do not have the resources needed to deal with the problem.
“We do only have two cutters – that’s woefully inadequate, but we can’t just walk into a big ship shop and buy another one,” she told Today.
Ms Moreton said the immediate priority is to “disrupt the criminality” of smuggling gangs arranging crossings, but said it is “very difficult to know” how much the French authorities are doing.
“We are being told that those touting for these crossings are absolutely open about it,” she said. “They are around and about in the camps, they are in the cafes in those areas of Calais. They are very clear, very open, touting for crossings that night.
“If it’s that obvious to journalists and staff in those areas, then presumably it is obvious to the French authorities too.”