The number of child migrants who have crossed the Channel and been placed in care has doubled this year, according to a council leader who has warned smugglers are now sending them across the water unaccompanied.
Roger Gough, Kent county council leader, said his county was becoming the “sole carer for the nation’s unaccompanied children” after the surge in smugglers sending them on small boats across the Channel particularly since the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have had almost 180 young people come into our care so far this year. That’s twice the level of what we saw the same time last year and in the month of May alone it’s 50. It is unsustainable,” he said.
“At the moment they are now coming on boats. There was a time where most of the young people who came into our care came via lorries, but it is now very much via the boat route.
“Historically the people who came on boats were adults and families, but now there are unaccompanied young people as well.”
Another 13 migrants were brought ashore in Dover on Friday bringing the total to 1,256 since lockdown and 1,635 already this year, compared to the 1,890 for the entirety of 2019.
Tony Smith, former director general of the Border Force, warned MPs on the Home Affairs Committee that migrants channel crossings were becoming a “major threat” to the UK border for which Britain was not geared up to tackle.
“We haven’t really geared ourselves up for a major maritime threat like this in terms of our infrastructure, our response capability, our international response capability. We need to have a very serious look at this and examine our own capability,” he said.
“Are we capable of interdicting on the high seas? How do we operate that safely? Are we able to return them to the port of disembarkation (that is France) otherwise you will continue to fuel the supply chain?
“The smugglers are saying give us your money and we will get you to Britain. We need to send a clear message that that is not going to work.”
It would require a Border Patrol force with powers to board and seize boats, and joint investigation and enforcement teams with the French to return them to France.