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Home Office formally asks for military help over illegal migrant crossings
8 August 2020, 14:29
Defence chiefs are considering a formal request from the Home Office for naval support to deal with migrants attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats.
The call for the Royal Navy to assist Border Force in the Dover Straits came as the Government faces increasing pressure to deal with record numbers of people trying to make the perilous journey.
Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed to make the route used by asylum seekers “unviable” but conceded there are “legislative, legal and operational barriers” to stopping the boats.
However, ministers were warned of potentially fatal capsizings and legal challenges after it emerged they were considering blocking boats in the Channel before they enter British waters.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a statement on Saturday: "The MoD has received a request from the Home Office to support UK Border Force operations in the Dover Straits.
"We are assessing the requirements using the formal Military Aid to the Civilian Authorities (Maca) process and are working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist.
"As ever, the MoD will do all it can to support HMG requirements."
Assistance likely to be under consideration includes surveillance, reconnaissance and command control.
But the request came after an MoD source told the PA news agency that any request for naval assistance would be “completely potty”.
“We don't resort to deploying armed forces to deal with political failings,” the source said.
The Coastguard was dealing with a “number of incidents” off the Kent coast on Saturday after the Home Office said more than 130 migrants made it to the UK in 13 boats on Friday.
On Thursday, at least 235 migrants made the dangerous journey in 17 boats, setting a new single-day record.
Immigration Minister Chris Philp said he will meet French counterparts next week to work “to stop these illegal migrants from getting in the water in the first place”.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the UK would be using “boats to try and prevent people from leaving and from making that very dangerous crossing across the Channel”.
But Labour former home secretary Jack Straw warned that any move modelled on Australia's controversial “push-back” approach deployed against migrants from Indonesia could have deadly consequences.
“I don't think that just trying to push these people back is going to work and it will only take one of these dinghies to capsize and everybody to drown, which is perfectly feasible, for their to be a hullabaloo, including in the Conservative Party, and for the policy to have to be reversed, so I wouldn't go down that route,” he told BBC Radio 4 Today.
“The crucial point here is the obvious one, is that it requires the co-operation of the French.”
Bella Sankey, director of the Detention Action human rights campaign, described the possibility of boats being forced back into French waters as “an unhinged proposal” which would be met with legal challenges.
“It's unlawful, it's really dangerous and could seriously risk human life,” she said. “From any way you look at it it's a terrible idea, and I don't think it would actually get off the ground.
“If they did try and go down the route of push-backs at sea, absolutely they would face legal challenges.”