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Over 24 hours, the Mail photographed a stretch of The Channel to witness migrants’ crossings

HM Cutter Seeker — one of the largest in the UK Border Force’s fleet — races through the English Channel having plucked 21 migrants from their dinghy.

Hours later its detachable inflatable boat takes eight more migrants to Dover after intercepting them in the water.

Within minutes, Seeker’s sister vessel Speedwell, with at least six migrants on board, is spotted tugging a white dinghy back to British shores.

In just one 24-hour period last week, the Mail captured the extraordinary farce unfolding on Britain’s sea border as this apparently formidable patrol appeared powerless to prevent an escalating human catastrophe.

HM Cutter Seeker — one of the largest in the UK Border Force’s fleet — races through the English Channel having plucked 21 migrants from their dinghy

Our bird’s-eye view — taken from a helicopter high over the Channel — shows the desperate risks dozens of people take every day in the hope of a better life.

The people picked up by the Border Force — refugees and economic migrants — faced a perilous journey across the Channel in the dead of night.

Many of them would have launched from the new ‘Jungle’ camp in the Dunes area of Calais, meeting brutal people-smugglers on darkened beaches between Calais and Les Hemmes de Marck.

These professional smugglers reportedly charge up to £5,000 for a seat on an inflatable Zodiac boat, or up to £800 for a kayak. 

Other smugglers have charged up to £11,000 for a place on a boat.

This summer there have been dozens of vessels launching at once. 

On just one day last month, June 3, 166 migrants made the crossing aboard eight vessels — smashing the previous total of 145 on one day the previous month.

After several days of launches, the boats run out and the vessels become more desperate — two surfboards tied together and, last week, an inflatable rubber ring.

There are no official figures for the number of migrants who lose their lives in the Channel.

Last Thursday morning, on the hottest day of the year, the co-ordinated land, air and sea operation could have been mistaken for the backdrop to a war movie.

In addition to the two Border Force cutters, a French Navy warship patrolled the coast of Calais. Police vans stood guard on the Kent hills.

Our bird's-eye view — taken from a helicopter high over the Channel — shows the desperate risks dozens of people take every day in the hope of a better life. The people picked up by the Border Force — refugees and economic migrants — faced a perilous journey across the Channel in the dead of night

Our bird’s-eye view — taken from a helicopter high over the Channel — shows the desperate risks dozens of people take every day in the hope of a better life. The people picked up by the Border Force — refugees and economic migrants — faced a perilous journey across the Channel in the dead of night 

Below the Mail’s helicopter, 1,200ft in the air, an English-French military drone scoped the horizon. 

It represents the front line in a very modern battle to bring Britain’s spiralling migrant crisis under control. 

Yet victory is nowhere in sight.

The patrol operation starts long before dawn. By 3am last Thursday morning the drone hovered over the Channel and at 7am the cutters, French patrol boat and police vans were in place.

By 7.30am the first migrants had already landed. Eight arrived on the sandy shores of Kingsdown, east of Dover, having made the journey across the Channel overnight.

They headed to nearby woods before being found by police.

This is unusual; the vast majority of migrants are picked up on the beaches before being able to travel elsewhere. 

Hours later HM Cutter Seeker's detachable inflatable boat takes eight more migrants to Dover after intercepting them in the water

Hours later HM Cutter Seeker’s detachable inflatable boat takes eight more migrants to Dover after intercepting them in the water

Kent Police officers were seen combing country lanes — while a beach-walker stumbled across the migrants’ abandoned inflatable dinghy on the shore. 

Thirty minutes after this landing, the Border Force intercepted a white inflatable dinghy carrying 13 Syrian and Iraqi nationals, including one woman.

From the air the Mail watched as the 43-metre Seeker, manned by at least 12 staff and one commander, tugged this empty dinghy back to Dover while the migrants, in jeans and orange life-jackets, sheltered from the sun on the upper deck. 

Just two hours later, at 9.20am, 13 male migrants and two women landed at Abbot’s Cliff beach between Folkestone and Dover. 

They were met by Kent Police and the CoastGuard, pulled out of the water and seen by paramedics before being handed to the Border Force. 

In this single 24-hour period, 37 migrants reached Britain in illegal boats.

Taken in isolation, the figure may not sound desperately shocking.

Yet these daily landings on the south coast have now become so commonplace that the total number of migrants arriving on illegal vessels so far this year stands at 2,345 — far eclipsing the entire 2019 total of 1,890. In 2018, that figure was just 297.

A beach-walker spotted the inflatable dinghy used by eight migrants to cross The Channel. The migrants headed to woods where they were found by police

A beach-walker spotted the inflatable dinghy used by eight migrants to cross The Channel. The migrants headed to woods where they were found by police

A total of 702 migrants reached Britain in small boats last month alone. 

Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: ‘It seems all anyone without a right to come to the UK needs to do to gain permanent entry is set off in a flimsy dinghy from the other side of the Channel and claim asylum the moment they are rescued by a British vessel.

‘The traffickers are making fools of us. This is a ludicrous situation which the Government must grip, as they have promised and as the public expect.’

And yet so weak is the Government’s grasp on the deepening emergency that it does not even know the total number of illegal immigrants in the UK, according to a damning report by the National Audit Office last month.

The most recent Government figure of 430,000 is 15 years old. 

Astonishingly, the same report found that anyone who arrives illegally and manages to evade the authorities for two years is discarded from the total figure.

Seeker's sister vessel Speedwell, with at least six migrants on board, was spotted tugging a white dinghy back to British shores

Seeker’s sister vessel Speedwell, with at least six migrants on board, was spotted tugging a white dinghy back to British shores

Images of the French Navy escorting boats of illegal migrants into British waters — and into the arms of the Border Force which travels to meet them — only add to the sense of chaos.

The Mail has been told that both the French Navy and British Border Force are known to switch off their AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) at the same time, rendering their locations in the Channel unidentifiable.

When questioned about this legal yet curiously coordinated Anglo-French absence from maritime radars, a Home Office spokesman declined to comment.

The vast majority of migrants who cross the Channel are male, yet traffickers are known to include at least one woman and child in each boat so authorities will take extra care to save them, according to Migrant Watch UK.

Only the day before the Kingsdown landings, a mother and four-year-old child nearly drowned as the military-style rib they were on suddenly deflated two miles south of Dungeness Point.

They were among 21 migrants on board. In a statement, the private dredging firm tasked by the Coastguard to rescue the migrants described how they pulled the woman and child to safety as the 19 others clung to the side until the RNLI Lifeboat arrived.

They waited in the water for 45 minutes and were eventually transferred to the Border Force. The RNLI declined to comment. 

These migrants were among 82 who made the crossing on Wednesday, on another ordinary — yet extraordinary —day on the Channel.

Later, there were even claims on maritime radio that four migrants had entered French waters in a ‘blue and white inflatable children’s paddling pool with oars’, according to a source who reported hearing it on Channel 67, a public radio frequency.

A French Navy vessel, PSV Pluvier, is said to have carried out the rescue and discovered ‘four men desperately trying to reach the coast of England using oars’.

‘The safest course is for the French to stop trafficking boats leaving their shores in the first place,’ said Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover.

‘Any that do reach us illegally should be sent back — no ifs or buts.’

Between January 2019 and May this year, only 155 migrants were returned to France, according to the Home Office. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she is seeking to change the law so boats can be intercepted and turned around by the Border Force before they enter British waters.

She vowed last year to have solved the crisis by the spring, and claimed English Channel crossings from French migrant camps would become an ‘infrequent phenomenon’.

Instead, numbers are soaring, and so is the human cost. ‘I used to take my kids to the beach,’ said a father living in Kingsdown, who asked not to be named. 

The migrants wore life jackets and peered over the edge of the boat as the dinghy they had been in floated next to them

 The migrants wore life jackets and peered over the edge of the boat as the dinghy they had been in floated next to them

‘I’ve found bodies there before. It’s something you can’t unsee once you’ve seen them.

‘The potential for people dying [when they make the crossing] is massive. It’s escalated so much. What’s going to happen next?’

The Home Office has now spent almost £62million funding patrols along the French coast in five years, begging obvious and very serious questions about its value for money.

A Home Office spokesman said the French had stopped more than 1,000 migrants from making the journey this year.

Police and coastguard members also retrieved this boat from Britain's shores

Police and coastguard members also retrieved this boat from Britain’s shores

Chris Philp, Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, said: ‘We are returning people who are arriving to our country illegally and Border Force, the National Crime Agency and French law enforcement continue to dismantle the ruthless criminal gangs who facilitate these crossings.’

A spokesman for the Maritime & Coastguard Agency said it was ‘committed to safeguarding life around the seas and coastal areas of this country’, adding that ‘it is only concerned with preservation of life, rescuing those in trouble and bringing them safely back to shore.’

The National Audit Office concluded last month that the £392million annual budget for Immigration Enforcement did not represent good value for the British taxpayer.

With no remedy to the crisis in sight, this may come to be seen as a huge underestimate.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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