Record 1,185 people reach UK in one day after risking death crossing Channel

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A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

A record 1,185 people reached the UK on Thursday after risking death on board small boats in the English Channel, a new record for a single day.

Lifeboat crews, Border Force and French authorities spent hours intercepting boats in the Dover Strait throughout the day.

However, despite their efforts, three people are feared lost at sea after two kayaks were found adrift off the coast of Calais.

Thursday’s total, confirmed by the Home Office on Friday, is the highest for daily arrivals during the current crisis, surpassing the previous record of 853 set earlier this month.

Border Force vessel Seeker leaves the Port of Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
Border Force vessel Seeker leaves the Port of Dover in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

More than 23,500 people have now reached the UK after crossing the English Channel on board small boats this year, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

In the last seven days, more than 2,400 people have crossed to Britain – the most in any such period during the current crisis and more than the entirety of 2019.

The Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world and has claimed lives in the past, including two people in recent weeks.

Boris Johnson called on the French to “police the beaches”, telling reporters: “We have a problem which is that they are coming from France and in the end, if the French authorities will not or cannot control those departures it is very difficult for us to turn them back at sea.

“We want to do that, we want to do that in a safe and humane way but it is very difficult.”

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on Priti Patel to “stop blaming others” over the crossings.

The Labour MP tweeted: “Time and time again, we keep hitting new records with crossings – people risking their lives to make this treacherous journey.

“It is time for the Home Secretary to take some responsibility and stop blaming others.”

A young girl is helped by a Coastguard officer as she arrives in Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
A young girl is helped by a Coastguard officer as she arrives in Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

In what has become a familiar sight at the docks in Dover, a young girl wrapped in a red jacket was seen being carried ashore on Thursday, one of hundreds of people brought in after being picked up at sea.

Border officials were busy past nightfall in the Kent harbour as they worked to process the hundreds of arrivals.

The cries of children waiting within the compound amid the November chill could be heard, adding to the usual hustle and bustle noise of the busy trade port.

Further along the coast, more people were reportedly seen arriving on Hastings beach in East Sussex after being picked up by the RNLI.

Cumulative migrant crossings of the English Channel to the UK. See story POLITICS Migrants. Infographic PA Graphics. (PA Graphics)
Cumulative migrant crossings of the English Channel to the UK. See story POLITICS Migrants. Infographic PA Graphics. (PA Graphics)

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “The people making these perilous sea crossings are doing so out of desperation, largely because there are no safe and legal routes open to them, and many have family and other connections here.

“Instead of seizing on these highly visible crossings to manufacture a supposed ‘national emergency’ in their attempts to justify draconian new asylum policies, ministers ought to be working constructively with the French authorities to provide safe access to asylum procedures on both sides of the Channel.

“With its current approach, the Government is wilfully endangering people it should be helping. These are cruel tactics and they should end.”

Jon Featonby, refugee and asylum policy manager at British Red Cross, said: “Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options.

“It is a brutal, life-threatening journey, especially in the worsening winter weather.

“There are no simple answers, but we urge the Government to rethink its plans. As it stands, the Nationality and Borders Bill will make the UK’s asylum system harsher and not address the reasons why people take such dangerous journeys.”

Natalie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover, said: “The UK Government has paid France tens of millions of pounds to step up border patrols. There is no excuse for what we have seen.

“The French need to get a grip and clamp down on the organised criminal gangs who are behind this problem – not allowing people traffickers to roam free, exploit vulnerable people and ply their disgusting trade.

“I am very worried that the French standing by and doing nothing will cost more lives as the seas become rougher as we head into winter.”

In 2019, Home Secretary Priti Patel promised to make migrant crossings an “infrequent phenomenon” by spring 2020, and then pledged in August last year to “make this route unviable”.

During this time, the Government has agreed to pay France millions of pounds to increase security on its northern coast.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, on board the Dover lifeboat, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Thursday November 11, 2021. (PA Wire)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, on board the Dover lifeboat, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Thursday November 11, 2021. (PA Wire)

Disagreements between the UK and French Governments over what is expected have sometimes boiled over into sharp words exchanged across the Dover Strait.

Earlier this year, Ms Patel threatened to withhold the £54 million promised to France to help stop crossings unless more people were prevented from reaching the UK.

Speaking to BBC News on Friday, Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont said: “We’ve got hundreds of police forces, gendarmerie patrolling, but we have 300, 400 kilometres of shore to monitor every night, and that’s quite impossible to stop all the crossings.”

Despite the increasing numbers of small boats arrivals, the UK continues to see far fewer boat arrivals and asylum claims than many of its European counterparts.

At least 100,907 people have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea so far this year, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

At least 1,313 people are estimated to be dead or missing, according to the same data.

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