Migrant arrivals on small boats from northern France hit record levels in May

3 June 2021, 06:02 | Updated: 3 June 2021, 10:10

Hundreds of migrants arrived in the last four days of May
Hundreds of migrants arrived in the last four days of May. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The number of migrants arriving in small boats from northern France hit record levels in May, figures show.

A total of 568 migrants landed in the last four days of the month alone. And in the first four months of 2021, the number of people making the crossing was 2,108. This represents more than double the 896 who crossed in that period in 2020.

Officials believe smuggling gangs have switched tactics of putting people in lorries to small boats because it is proving to be a more successful route into the country.

The Home Office has warned staff are putting in shifts of up to 20 hours in length in order to process the backlog of migrant arrivals.

Figures released last month show the number of migrants crossing the English Channel have almost doubled so far in 2021 as criminal gangs are attracted to a "high success rate" and big profits.

More than 3,100 people have made the journey to the UK compared with around 1,600 at the same time last year.

Crossings have spiked since March last year because of Covid-19 travel restrictions and increased border security, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Numbers of people trying to enter the UK hidden in vehicles on ferries or aboard flights fell during 2020, but returned to pre-lockdown levels in the final weeks of the year, the agency said in its annual National Strategic Assessment.

This comes despite the Home Secretary announcing a crackdown on the crossings in March and an agreement with authorities in France aimed at stopping the crossings by last Spring.

Last Friday, 336 people reached Britain on board 19 dinghies and other small boats.

Lucy Moreton of ISU, the union for borders, immigration and customs staff, told the Guardian: "“We are dependent on volunteer medical support.

“Staff face appallingly long hours most of the time. Shifts running up to 20 hours are not uncommon. We are deeply disturbed by that. It is not acceptable.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Covid testing at the Tug Haven is completed by contractors and not volunteers. We have never used volunteers. Every migrant arrival is tested for Covid prior to entering their accommodation, where they are placed in isolation for 10 days.”

The spokesperson added: “There are no instances or circumstances in which an officer would have taken a 20-hour shift and managers would have intervened to prevent this from happening and we have mitigation measures in place.”

The Government has said criminal gangs are putting people's lives at risk.

LBC last year uncovered a major people smuggling ring and the station's investigation led to the ringleader being jailed and banned from ever returning to France.

The Home Secretary vowed in autumn 2019 that the illegal crossings would be virtually eliminated by the spring of 2020, but there is increasing frustration in Whitehall that authorities in France are not doing enough to stop them.