Illegal migrants present 'major threat' to UK border, ex-immigration chief says

22 May 2020, 11:05

The former Border Force chief was speaking to MPs
The former Border Force chief was speaking to MPs. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Migrants crossing the English Channel in large numbers present a "major threat" to the UK Border, a former chief immigration officer has warned.

The Commons home affairs committee has heard that migrants making the dangerous 22-mile crossing are presenting a risk to the UK.

Tony Smith, a former head of the Border Force, told MPs: "This was declared a critical incident by the Home Secretary last year.

"In my experience, critical incidents are declared in order to put out the fire if you like with a task force and that when the fire's put out we return to business as normal.

"It's too enduring to be just a critical incident.

"I think this is becoming a major threat, I'm afraid, to the UK border."

The former immigration chief told MPs that people smugglers were telling migrants to get close to British Border Force ships and “then you’ll be ok”.

Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the number of small boats crossing the Channel illegally a "critical incident."

The English Channel is the world’s busiest shipping lane, with 500-600 ships passing through the narrow strait every day.

The Home Office says it is “tackling illegal migrant crossings on all fronts with every agency” and working alongside their counterparts in Europe.

Read more: Nigel Farage gives update after witnessing illegal migrants enter British waters

On Thursday around 65 people were picked-up making the crossing in the early hours of the morning.

At least seven small boats were intercepted by the UK Border Force with migrants taken to a makeshift migrant processing centre at Dover harbour.

Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts Chris Philp said: “We are working tirelessly with the French to stop these illegally-facilitated crossings, sharing criminal intelligence with the NCA and French authorities. And a substantial French law enforcement deployment last weekend prevented over 100 migrants from making the crossings – with the French also stopping migrants today.

“Migrants should not risk their lives leaving a safe country and we will look return those who did today where possible.”

The head of the National Crime Agency has warned that criminals are likely to look to exploit opportunities during the coronavirus lockdown to import drugs and illegal migrants to the UK.

Lynn Owens said: "We assess that there is a strong likelihood that organised crime groups will seek to exploit professionals such as lorry drivers or port or airport or workers, many of whom may be more financially vulnerable, as a consequence of the lockdown and their loss of work.

"We have issued an alert to ports and airport operators reinforcing the need for staff to report any approaches or suspicious activity."