BORDER BOATS CALLED IN OVER CHANNEL MIGRANTS
Javid orders our vessels back from the Med to tackle crisis
MIGRANTS attempting to cross the Channel will be rescued then returned immediately to France after Home Secretary Sajid Javid beefed up border patrols last night.
Two Border Force cutters were scrambled from the Mediterranean in response to the growing crisis which has seen almost 100
migrants make the perilous sea crossing over the Christmas period.
Mr Javid made the announcement after a dozen migrants, including a 10-year-old child, were detained after landing on a Kent beach yesterday.
He had resisted calls for more boats amid fears it would encourage illegal crossings due to the increased chance of a safe rescue.
But after a meeting with Border Force, National Crime Agency and Whitehall officials to discuss the crisis for several hours, there was a change of approach.
Mr Javid explained: “This remains a very serious concern to me. That’s why I declared it a major incident a few days ago. It’s both about protecting human life but also about protecting our borders.
“When it comes to human life, clearly I want to make sure we are doing all we can to protect people.
“This is one of the most treacherous stretches of water there is, 21 miles with people taking a grave risk, really putting their lives into their own hands.”
He added: “I have made a decision today to redeploy two of the Border Force’s largest vessels, known as cutters, from abroad back to the UK, to south-east England, and they will be joining a cutter already there and two other coastal patrol vessels.”
One cutter, HMC Seeker, is expected to be redeployed from Gibraltar with one of two cutters patrolling the eastern Mediterranean, HMC Valiant and HMC Protector. They will join HMC Vigilant already in the English Channel.
Mr Javid said efforts were also being stepped up to tackle people traffickers and to return migrants who reach England back to France.
He said: “I wish there was one single answer but it does require action on many fronts.”
Co-operation with the French authorities is improving. About 40 per cent of attempted crossings have been disrupted, with both countries working together “directly but also in more covert ways”.
In a message to would-be migrants, he said: “We will do everything we can to make sure it is not a success. I don’t want people to think that if they leave a safe country like France they can get to Britain and then just get to stay.
“That’s why I am working out ways with the French to increase the number of returns to send a very strong message that we will do all we can not just to protect human lives but also protect our borders.”
The news comes after Mr Javid, widely regarded as frontrunner to become Tory leader after Prime Minister Theresa May, cut short his family holiday in South Africa to deal with the escalating crisis.
Charlie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover, gave his backing to last night’s announcement. He said: “I welcome the move to bring back our cutters to help maintain safety and security on our borders. This is something I have been calling for and am delighted the Home Secretary has listened. This makes it even more important we put renewed pressure on the French Government to play their role in tackling this crisis, preventing these crossings from happening at all.”
He also wants drones armed with thermal imaging technology to operate over the Channel.
Previously, immigration minister Caroline Nokes had signalled a reluctance to put further vessels in the Channel. On a weekend visit to Dover, she claimed more craft could act as a possible “magnet” for further attempted crossings.
Mr Elphicke added: “My greatest concern is that, if we don’t bring this crisis to an end, sooner or later there will be a tragedy in the middle of the English Channel.”
Lord West, the former head of the Navy, said that the cutters would be a “useful” asset.
But he added:
“They’ll be useful for the narrow lanes around the Channel but really this a drop in the ocean.” And he hit out at the handling of the crisis, adding: “The reaction to this has been appalling.”
Mr Javid said “just under half” of migrants attempting to cross the channel “have actually been disrupted by the French and never actually made it in terms of leaving the French coast”.
The Home Office said later that 539 migrants have tried to travel to the UK on small boats last year.
Of these, 434 – about 80 per cent – had made their attempts in the last three months of the year. Of the 539, 227 – 42 per cent – were intercepted by the French before they made it to the UK.
New approach… Sajid Javid