A young family thought to be migrants are escorted from a UK Border Force vessel after they were brought into Dover, Kent, on Friday
A young family thought to be migrants are escorted from a UK Border Force vessel after they were brought into Dover, Kent, on Friday © Gareth Fuller/PA

The UK home secretary has pledged to make it “unviable” for migrants to illegally cross the Channel to Britain, after a surge in the number of people making the crossing this week.

The numbers of migrants arriving so far in 2020 has far exceeded previous years and there was a further spike on Thursday when a record 235 people came ashore, the Home Office said.

Priti Patel said the number was “appalling and unacceptably high” and said she was “working to make this route unviable” by stopping small boats leaving France and “intercepting” any that were crossing.

“This is complex to do and we face serious legislative, legal and operational barriers,” she said in a tweet. “We also need the co-operation of the French to intercept boats and return migrants back to France.”

The UK government has previously called in the Royal Navy to help deal with migrants crossing the English Channel.

Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, has asked the UK to provide more resources to help France deal with the setting up of camps in Calais, where migrants often stay before attempting a trip to reach the UK.

In a meeting in the French port last month, Mr Darmanin and Ms Patel agreed to set up a “Franco-British intelligence group” to combat people smugglers who facilitate illegal migration into the UK and EU. The group, with six police officers each from the UK and France, is to be based at Coquelles at the French end of the Channel tunnel. 

“We’ll help the people of the Calais region and the coast and the police forces to be in touch with our British friends so we can return to normality,” Mr Darmanin said at the time.

The number of people picked up while attempting to cross the Channel by boat has risen sharply in the past three years, from less than 500 in 2018 to 1,890 in 2019 and 2,000 by June this year, according to parliamentary figures.

Analysis of daily counts by the BBC show the figure has increased to more than 4,000 so far this year.

The rise has generated political pressure in the UK. Brexit party leader Nigel Farage on Thursday described the arrivals as an “invasion” and accused the UK government of offering a “taxi service” into Dover.

The House of Commons home affairs committee this week launched an inquiry into the rise in illegal migrants, which would include considering what legal and safe routes could be offered to reunite separated families.

Bridget Chapman, project co-ordinator of Kent Refugee and Migrant Network, said overseas conflict and persecution had increased the number of people hoping to reach the UK, where many of those seeking asylum have existing communities or family members.

She said this week’s calm weather, and in the longer term attempts by authorities to crack down on other routes to the UK, had increased the appeal of crossing by boat.

“When we make it more difficult for people to come one way they find other ways of doing it,” she said,

“The UK has in the last few years spent a lot of money on making the Calais port more secure, stopping people coming in on lorries and other routes. Those people are going to come, but they’ve found another route.”

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