Andrew Pierce 6pm - 9pm
Almost 50 migrants intercepted off UK coast by Border Force
27 December 2019, 07:20
A child is among 49 suspected migrants being processed by border officials in Dover after a rescue operation in the English Channel.
Four boats travelling across the Channel were intercepted by the UK Border Force on Boxing Day.
The Home Office said authorities were alerted to several small vessels heading towards the UK coast at around 1.30am on Thursday.
Two cutters and a coastal patrol vessel were deployed to intercept the craft and rescue the group made up of men, women and one child.
The group presented themselves as Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan and will be medically assessed and transferred to immigration officials for interview.
The Home Office said further migrant activity was intercepted by the French authorities, with two other small boats taken back to France.
Bridget Chapman from Kent Refugee Action Network said she thinks Brexit could be causing people traffickers to force people to cross the channel at this time of year.
In a statement the Home Office said: "Illegal migration is a criminal activity.
"Those who seek to come to the UK illegally and the ruthless criminals who facilitate journeys are all breaking the law and endangering lives.
"When people arrive on our shores unlawfully, we will work to return them to mainland Europe.
"In partnership with France, we target the criminals behind this form of people smuggling, to pre-empt crossings and stop boats from leaving French shores."
The Home Office said patrols on French beaches had doubled and drones, specialist vehicles and detection equipment have been deployed to deter crossings.
Since January, more than 120 migrants who entered the UK illegally on small boats have been returned to Europe, the Home Office said.
National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force officials are working with French police to prosecute people trafficking gangs.
In the last year, 16 French prosecutions saw 30 individuals convicted, receiving sentences ranging from three months to six years.
Commenting on the Boxing Day crossings, Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover in Kent, said: "The people traffickers operate their illegal trade everyday of the year, including over the entire festive period from Christmas Day to New Year.
"The UK and the French authorities should be equally ready.
"In particular the French should be take firm action to stop these small craft setting off from the French coast.
"The weather was very mild on Christmas Day.
"These were perfect conditions for illegal departures from France.
"The French ought to have been more vigilant."
"Border force, the RNLI and HM Coastguard work tirelessly to save lives.
"But the truth is there should be an agreement between Britain and France that people who are found in the English Channel should be safely returned to France and not brought into Britain.
"That would be the best deterrent and the most effective way to bring this crisis to an end."
A Coastguard statement said: "We sent Dover RNLI lifeboat, HM Coastguard's helicopter from Lydd as well as the fixed-wing aircraft and Border Force vessels Seeker and Speedwell.
"We are committed to safeguarding life around the seas and coastal areas of this country. HM Coastguard is only concerned with preservation of life, rescuing those in trouble and bringing them safely back to shore, where they will be handed over to the relevant partner emergency services or authorities."