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Number of English Channel crossings surpasses 2020 record five months quicker

group of people thought to be migrants are escorted from the beach in Dungeness, Kent, by Border Force officers following a small boat incident in the Channel. Photo by PA

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

The number of people who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel in small boats this year has passed the total for all of 2020 – with more than five months left of 2021.

At least 287 migrants succeeded in reaching the UK on Tuesday, bringing the total for the year to at least 8,452, according to available official data compiled by the PA news agency.

This eclipses the figure for the whole of 2020, when 8,417 people crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats.

These figures are based on Home Office data obtained and analysed by PA.

One charity condemned the Government’s handling of the issue, saying it “loses all credibility” with the new record.

Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine channel threat commander for the Home Office, said the Government “continues to take steps to tackle the unacceptable problem”.

On Tuesday, a number of boats reached the UK after setting off from continental Europe, with dozens landing in Dungeness in Kent.

Many were brought to the beach aboard an RNLI lifeboat, where they were met by immigration officials.

Further along the coast, others were brought to the port of Dover by Border Force.

Tuesday’s arrivals came after at least 430 people, including women and young children reached the UK on Monday, a new record for a single day.

Thousands of migrants have continued to make the trip across the Channel packed aboard often unseaworthy dinghies over the last 18 months, putting their lives at risk on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

In October last year, a Kurdish-Iranian family, including small children, died when their migrant boat sank off the French coast.

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said: ”With today’s record this Government loses all credibility in managing a safe and fair asylum system.

“Priti Patel can re-announce enhanced police cooperation with the French all day, every day, but until there is a political renegotiation to allow refugees safe passage to claim asylum at the U.K. border in France, this relatively small number of desperate people will continue risking everything for a shot at our protection.

“Ministers should stop playing fantasy politics and step up to protect lives instead.”

Meanwhile, Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said the growing number of crossings “shows the Government’s get-tough-quick schemes do not work”.

He added: “Criminal smugglers prey on refugees who have little choice than to put risk their lives in rickety boats because Ministers refuse to create more routes to reach safety here.

“And the Government’s cruel anti-refugee Bill will do little to stop the boats. It is unworkable, unlawful and will end up an expensive disaster that criminalises people who are simply asking for our help.”

He called on the Government to create safe routes and welcome 10,000 refugees a year.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights programme director at Amnesty International UK, said the Bill will only serve to exacerbate the asylum issue.

He said: “There are important measures in this Bill to right historical injustices in British nationality law, but sadly its totality is such an abomination that it is almost beyond repair.

“Criminalising people just for trying to reach a place of safety is morally and legally indefensible. People cross the Channel and put themselves in serious danger because there are simply no safe alternatives open to them.

“Unless MPs drastically amend this Bill, we will end up with even more chaos and delay in our dysfunctional immigration system.”

Mr O’Mahoney said: “There is an unacceptable rise in dangerous small boat crossings across the channel because of a surge in illegal migration across Europe.

“Today we signed a strengthened agreement with our French counterparts to increase police patrols on French beaches and enhance intelligence sharing. This joint work has already prevented over 7,500 migrants enter the UK.

“The Government continues to take steps to tackle the unacceptable problem of illegal migration through the Nationality & Borders Bill which will protect lives and break this cycle of illegal crossings.

“The Government is also continuing to return those with no legal right to remain in the UK.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced an agreement on Tuesday to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches for the second time in a year to prevent illegal migration and stop small boats from departing France.

As part of the deal, the Government will give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings.

Ms Patel said that British people have “had enough of illegal migration and the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs”.

Under the newly-agreed package, French officers will patrol wider areas of coastline across the northern coast between Boulogne and Dunkirk and patrols will be expanded further north-west around Dieppe.

There is also to be improved coverage via surveillance technology of the coast of France and investment in infrastructure is to increase to try and bolster border security at key border crossing points along the Channel coast.

Ms Patel is due to update the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Channel crossings on Wednesday morning.

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