LONDON (AP) – The British government vowed yesterday to strengthen border measures after a record daily number of people crossed the English Channel to the United Kingdom (UK) in small boats.
At least 235 migrants in 17 boats landed or were picked up by British Coast Guard and Border Force boats on Thursday, surpassing last week’s record of 202 arrivals in one day.
Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, either in trucks through the Channel tunnel or on ferries. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s strong economy and need for farm and restaurant labour drew migrants from around the world who could speak some English.
Some have turned to small boats organised by smugglers because lockdowns have reduced opportunities to stow away on ferries and trucks. Fine summer weather is also prompting more people to make the risky sea crossing – about 32 kilometres at its narrowest point – in vessels as small as dinghies and kayaks.
Britain’s Conservative government has called on French officials to do more to force boats in the Channel back to France.
They said France is a safe country and there is no reason migrants should travel from there to the UK.
Just last month, British Home Secretary Priti Patel and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin agreed to set up a French-British intelligence unit to crack down on what Patel called “gangs behind vile people smuggling”.
Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak said Britain’s Immigration Minister will go to France next week for talks about “further measures and stronger measures as required to stop and reduce the tide of boats coming”.
“I think people are absolutely right to be frustrated at the scenes they’re seeing. I’m frustrated, everyone is, which is why we’ve been working much more closely with the French government in recent time to improve our cooperation and intelligence-sharing,” Sunak told Sky News.
Sunak declined to comment on reports the UK could send Royal Navy ships to patrol the Channel. That has been suggested previously by British politicians. Bella Sankey of human rights charity Detention Action said many migrants had legitimate reasons to go to Britain, such as relatives in the country. She said the British government should offer safe and legal routes for them to come.
“This would end the crossings overnight and ensure we are standing by our age-old tradition of protecting those seeking sanctuary on our shores,” she said. “Trying to make this route ‘unviable’ through greater enforcement is naive grandstanding and amounts to more of the same.”