Migrant Channel crossings could hit 'epidemic' levels, warns ex-Border Force chief

14 November 2021, 23:39

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, on board the Dover lifeboat, following a small boat incident in the Channel.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, on board the Dover lifeboat, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

A former Border Force chief has warned that Britain faces an influx of 100,000 Channel migrants unless it can strike an agreement with France.

The warning follows an ongoing battle between the UK and France over intercepting migrants attempting to make the perilous journey across the English Channel.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel said last night that the crisis is a “shared problem” between the UK and France as pressure builds on the Government to act.

On Thursday, record numbers crossed the Channel, with a Home Office spokesperson claiming the public "have had enough".

"The number of illegal migrants we have seen departing from France today is unacceptable," said the spokesperson.

"The British public have had enough of seeing people die in the Channel while ruthless criminal gangs profit from their misery and our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken system which encourages migrants to make this lethal journey."

Read more: Brits 'have had enough' as record-breaking 1,200 migrants cross Channel in one day

Tony Smith, the former Director of the Border Force, told the Telegraph that crossings across the English Channel were in danger of hitting “epidemic” levels.

Mr Smith said: “If you’re talking about 1,000 a day you are getting to the epidemic proportions I predicted we might reach in 2001. That's when we had 100,000 in a year with the vast majority coming across the Channel.

“They were camping on the streets in Dover. There was a huge injection of money into the Home Office to cope with that.

“Are we going to accept this is going to be an ongoing problem? If we accept those numbers are going to continue, we are going to have to build facilities for the migrants to be properly looked after."

Clare Moseley, who is the founder of refugee crisis charity Care4Calais, told LBC that most migrants have no choice but to be "illegal".

"When you come from the middle of a war you don't get a passport," she said.

"Travelling illegally is actually part of being a refugee and it's very misleading to say that there are others coming illegally, because the numbers that come legally are tiny, and less than 1% of the world's refugees come via resettlement groups."

A record 1,185 Channel migrants reached the UK on Thursday, taking the total for the year to more than 23,500, nearly triple 2020’s figure of 8,417.

The journey across the Channel has been described as "dangerous, unnecessary and facilitated by violent criminal gangs profiting from misery".

Dan O'Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander for the Home Office, said: "We are working with the French to stop boats leaving their beaches and crack down on the criminals driving these crossings."

Read more: Nearly 2,000 migrants arrived in the UK last week in new record for 2021

The soaring number of crossings has prompted Amnesty International UK to call for an overhaul of the nation's asylum system.

Chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said in a statement: "We need to remember that these dangerous crossings are taking place because the Government has provided no safe alternative for people to exercise their right to seek asylum here.

"If Priti Patel is truly concerned with tackling criminal gangs and their exploitation of people, she needs to set up safe asylum routes so people no longer need to depend on smugglers.

"Tragically, the Government seems more interested in playing politics with asylum than in fulfilling its responsibilities toward people in need of a place of safety.

"Asylum claims are no higher now than they were two years ago and are much lower than in other European countries, but the Government has seized on these highly visible sea crossings to justify draconian new policies criminalising people simply for seeking asylum.

"It's misleading and deeply unhelpful to say France is a 'safe country' when, as ministers should know, many people who are perfectly entitled to seek asylum in Britain are trapped in miserable conditions in camps in northern France.

"We desperately need a new approach to asylum - including genuine Anglo-French efforts to devise safe asylum routes, a major overhaul of the painfully slow applications system, an end to the use of dangerous and unsuitable accommodation facilities like Napier Barracks, and a political approach based on real humanity not misinformation over so-called 'emergencies' in the Channel."