Channel migrants have begun ‘resisting rescue’ until they reach British waters, with French officials refusing to intervene unless anyone is in danger – the former head of Border Force warned today.
Tony Smith said the small boats crisis would continue as long as France continued to ‘interpret international law’ in a way that means they do not intercept vessels unless those on board are in trouble.
He told BBC Radio 4: ‘Those on board are not seeking rescue, because then they’ll be taken back to France,’ he said.
‘So there is evidence that people are resisting rescue until such a time as they reach our waters and of course we are duty bound to rescue them.
‘Once they’re on board a British vessel they will claim asylum and that’s been the business model for some time now.’
New figures have revealed a total of 19,073 migrants made the treacherous crossing in 406 dinghies so far in 2023. Last year saw a record 45,755 people make the journey overall, a 60 per cent increase on 2021.
A group of 50 migrants drifted into British waters today after being escorted by a French warship. They were later picked up by a Border Force vessel and taken to Dover.
A boat carrying around 50 migrants drifts into English waters today after being escorted by a French vessel from the French coastline
The boat being accompanied by the French vessel away from their territorial waters
The RIB is picked up by Border Force after crossing into British waters
Mr Smith said he had ‘heard stories’ of migrants threatening to scupper their boats if other vessels came near to them – leading to the French deciding to escort the boats until they got to the UK.
He called for a new agreement with France or the EU to create joint patrols that would take migrants back to Calais.
‘There is provision in international law to do that, where two countries could collaborate on joint patrols, we could have our people on their vessels and vice versa,’ he said.
‘But the deal would have to be that the migrants would be taken directly back to Calais.
‘And then of course they wouldn’t get into the UK asylum system. That’s where the blockage has been.
‘The French position is that this is an EU- wide issue.’
On Wednesday, 345 people in six dinghies were rescued by Border Force after they were detected making the 21-mile crossing. A further 79 people had to be rescued by French authorities – including 74 packed in one dinghy.
French coastguard were alerted to reports of two migrant boats in trouble in the Pas-de-Calais between Wimereux and the Bay of Somme.
The first boat with five people on board off Wimereux suffered engine failure with the migrants on board a rescue tug.
A short time later the second damaged dinghy was located with 74 on board by a French maritime police patrol boat.
Because of the number of people stranded, a second vessel had to be called in to assist. All 79 rescued were taken in to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
A total of 4,441 have crossed so far this month.
It comes as new Home Office figures revealed the number of asylum applications to the UK has hit the highest level in two decades.
The group – who took advantage of calm conditions in the Channel today – were seen packed onto an overloaded craft. In this photo you can see the French and British ships in the background
An aerial view of the vessel as it makes its way across the Channel
There were a total of 78,768 applications relating to 97,390 people in the year ending June 2023 – 19 per cent more than the previous year.
Albania was the most common nationality applying for asylum in Britain, with 11,790 applications – 7,557 of which came from arrivals on boats crossing the Channel.
Afghans were the second most common nationality, with 9,964 applications – almost double the number in the previous 12 months (5,154).
More than 19,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the Channel so far this year, with 345 people making the crossing on Wednesday.
Today’s immigration statistics revealed that the backlog of asylum cases has hit a new record high.
A total of 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of June 2023, up 44% from 122,213 at the end of June 2022 – the highest figure since current records began in 2010.
The number of asylum seekers waiting more than six months for an initial decision stood at 139,961 at the end of June, up 57% year on year from 89,231 and another record.
The rise was ‘due to more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions’, the Home Office said.
However, the number of cases waiting for a decision has risen by less than 1% in the three months to the end of June, suggesting the increase is slowing down.
‘This is in part due to an increase in the number of initial decisions made, and an increase in the number of asylum decision makers employed,’ the Home Office added.
There were 23,702 initial decisions made on asylum applications in the UK in the year to June 2023, up 61% on 14,730 in the year to June 2022.
It is also above the 20,766 decisions made in the pre-pandemic calendar year of 2019.
A group of migrants being brought ashore at Dover. It came as new figures showed the number of asylum applications to the UK has hit the highest level in two decades
More than 18,000 people have now crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year. Pictured are people arriving this morning
Just over seven in 10 (71%) of initial decisions on asylum applications in the year to June 2023 were grants of refugee status, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave.
This is ‘substantially higher’ than in pre-pandemic years, when around a third of initial decisions were grants, the Home Office said. The grant rate has been above 70% since 2021.
Before then, the previous high was in 1990, when it stood at 82%, although the volume of applications was much lower at that time.
Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister, said: ‘These new statistics set out in stark terms the complete chaos the Tories have created in the immigration and asylum system.
‘The asylum backlog has reached a new record high, with 175,000 people now waiting for decisions.
‘Only one per cent of last year’s 45,000 small boats cases have received a decision and the number of failed asylum seekers being returned is also down a whopping 70 per cent since 2010. This is a disastrous record for the Prime Minister and Home Secretary.
‘With this level of mismanagement, there is very little prospect of reducing the eye-wateringly high bill for hotel rooms for all those left in limbo, currently costing the British taxpayer £6 million a day.’
Border Force officials escort 50 migrants to Dover docks after they arrived this morning