Boat migrants crossing the Channel must be sent straight back to France to avert a tragedy, according to a former senior Home Office official.
David Wood, who was head of immigration enforcement, warned lives would be lost unless the Government adopted a new approach.
There were a further 34 attempted crossings overnight yesterday, bringing the total number rescued from the Channel since November to 300 and 82 since Christmas Day.
The French Patrolman of Gendarmerie boat, the Athos, rescued 11 migrants 15 miles off Calais at 1.45am yesterday
The migrants’ dinghy was spotted by passenger ships in French waters around midnight
A migrant seized off a Channel boat yesterday is escorted through Dover by officials
A rib boat seized by officials earlier this month after it brought migrants across the Channel
It is feared people smugglers are targeting the holiday period because they believe there will be fewer patrols. Just one cutter is patrolling UK waters, aided by two smaller craft.
‘We have to stop this or it will grow and grow. It will escalate. The answer is to return them to France as soon as they are picked up,’ Mr Wood said. ‘If we did that straight away, they would realise that paying £5,000 to the people smugglers would achieve nothing.’
Criticising the Home Office’s handling of the crisis, Mr Wood told the Daily Telegraph: ‘As far as organised crime is concerned, it’s de-risked their business.
‘They know they don’t have to get right across the Channel and land, they can get half way across and the migrants will be taken the rest of the way.
‘Given that the immigrants travelled from France, it would not be unlawful if the French agreed. In theory, under the Dublin agreement, there are circumstances when immigrants can be returned to France even when landed in the UK.
‘Britain’s border force, coastguards and lifeboats are being used as a taxi service for the migrants. There will be a hue and cry when a boat full of 12 migrants sinks and they die.’
Nine Iranians, including three children, were found on a beach in Kent yesterday after crossing the world’s busiest shipping lane in darkness in a 13ft dinghy. Another 14 Iranian men were stopped in two boats near Dover, and French authorities intercepted another 11 people as they set out from Calais, where five needed treatment for hypothermia.
The boats have also been helped by calm seas and a full moon.
Nearly eighty migrants on ten boats and dinghies have tried to cross from France since Christmas morning
Migrants are brought about a Navy boat by officials after being found in the Channel
The beach at Sandgate, where the migrants came ashore at around 2am this morning
Tim Loughton, a senior Tory MP on the Commons home affairs committee, last night said Home Office resources had been drained by Brexit preparations and fixing mistakes made with the Windrush generation.
He suggested that more coastguard cutters were needed to avoid ‘the impression of being a soft touch again’.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes admitted the numbers were ‘deeply concerning’ and blamed organised gangs.
In the latest cases, five Iranian men, one woman, two boys and a girl were found on the beach at Sandgate, near Folkestone, in the early hours. Coastguards spotted their boat. The children were handed over to social services and the adults were transferred to immigration forces.
The Home Office failed to respond to questions from the Mail on whether there had been fewer Border Force patrols during the Christmas break.
Conservative MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke, called on the Home Office and NCA to get more involved, demanding authorities ‘get a grip’ and step up patrols by cutters in the Channel.
Immigration minister Mrs Nokes blamed illegal people smugglers for some of the recent dangerous crossings, adding that British and French police were ‘working together 24 hours a day’ and the National Crime Agency (NCA) was working to ‘stop people smuggling at source’.
As the full scale of the problem emerged, it was revealed that yesterday alone:
- At around half past midnight, nine migrants including three children, were detained near Battery Point near Sandgate in Kent after crossing the English Channel in a dinghy.
- At 1.45am French authorities stopped a boat contain 11 would-be migrants in a small boat off Sangatte in northern France, and returned the passengers to Boulogne.
- At 8.30am a small inflatable craft containing six adult male migrants was met by UK Border Force officers on Shakespeare Beach in Dover.
- And at 8.45 eight men in a dinghy off the coast of Dover were stopped by immigration officers.
- All 23 migrants now on British soil are Iranian.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes blamed people traffickers for some of the recent crossings
RNLI Lifeboats were scrambled at 12.30am yesterday to reports that a small RIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) was in the water off the coast of Folkestone.
A coastguard helicopter from Lydd in Kent illuminated the scene by searchlight helping RNLI volunteers from Littlestone lifeboat station find the 13ft boat, which by the time they arrived was ashore at Sandgate, just west of Folkestone.
Charlie Davies, operations manager of RNLI Littlestone, told MailOnline that his crew found the dinghy on the beach, adding: ‘The persons on the rib had gone ashore, and were apprehended by Border Force and Kent Police.’
Home Office confirmed they attended to nine Iranian migrants – five men, one woman, two boys, and one girl – who are being processed by immigration officials.
Each of the migrants have been given a medical assessment and transferred to immigration officials for interview – in the case of the adults – or into the care of social services.
Eleven migrants were rescued by French authorities in a small boat which was spotted by passenger ships in French waters off Calais around midnight.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke demanded that authorities get a grip on the situation and increase patrols
The French coastal authority, the Maritime Prefecture of the English Channel and North Sea, said a Patrolman of Gendarmerie (PCG) boat, the Athos, was sent to rescue the migrants.
She located their semi-rigid boat 15 nautical miles north west of Calais.
The Athos recovered eleven adults – including five in a state of hypothermia – at 1:45am yesterday and returned all aboard to Boulogne for treatment and processing.
Six Iranian men who landed on Shakespeare Beach in Dover in a RIB yesterday were met by Border Force officials from the Home Office at 8.30am. They have been given a medical assessment and transferred to immigration officials for interview.
And just fifteen minutes later in the waters off Dover, a RHIB was identified containing eight Iranian migrants, all adult men, which was intercepted and brought in to port.
Each migrant has been given a medical assessment and transferred to immigration officials for interview.
On Christmas Day French authorities intercepted this rubber dinghy (pictured) off the coast of Calais carrying nine migrants after the engine on their boat failed in an bid to cross the Channel
A total of 40 migrants were taken into custody by British officials on Christmas Day
Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, has demanded that authorities ‘get a grip’ on Christmas crossings asking why the National Crime Agency – often called Britain’s FBI – did not seem to be more involved.
He said: ‘With well over 100 migrants having broken into Britain in recent weeks the [Home Office and NCA] need urgently to explain what they are doing to put a stop to these crossings.
Pictured: French authorities rescuing a boat containing nine migrants in the Channel on Christmas Day
Criminal gangs have been smuggling migrants across the Channel in dinghies such as this Zodiac, pictured earlier this month in Dover, Kent. Six people made it into the UK in this boat
‘This is an incredibly dangerous crossing to make in the middle of winter. Our volunteer lifeboat crews are being called out nearly every day.
‘The British and French authorities must get a grip and find and stop the traffickers… before there is a tragedy.’
He added: ‘It’s time the Home Office took this problem more seriously and stepped up resources along the Kent coast – with more cutters and patrol craft.
‘We need to see more investment in stronger borders, all the way along our coast.
‘We are seeing a big increase in numbers as Iranian migrants are paying vast sums to people traffickers to get them across the Channel.
‘The criminal gangs behind this need to be caught and brought to justice before these craft leave the French coast.’
Dozens of migrants have been plucked from the English Channel trying to reach Britain since the start of November.
Most of those held by police crossing the world’s busiest shipping lane from France since November have claimed to be Iranian.
It emerged last month that people smugglers are charging migrants up to £13,000 each to cross the Channel by inflatable dinghy.
One family of would-be asylum seekers was charged £40,000 for the dangerous night-time sea crossing.
So-called ‘agents’ have already charged families to reach the French coast. Many fly from Iran to countries such as Serbia or Turkey, before being smuggled across borders to make overland journeys across Europe.
People traffickers then demand a further fee to get them to British soil. Individuals pay as much as £13,300 a head (15,000 euros) to board rubber dinghies for the freezing night journey.