The festive period has seen a sharp increase in the number of migrant boats attempting to cross the English Channel from mainland Europe, prompting Home Secretary Sajid Javid to declare a major incident. More than 200 people are said to have reached the UK in this way since November 2018.
As a result, heavier border control measures have been established between the UK and France. However, opposition officials have accused the Government of politicising the issue ahead of the critical Brexit vote, while UK immigration experts say the attempted crossings do not, in their view, represent any kind of crisis.
Channel crossings cause concern
Many of the migrants are attempting to cross illegally from Calais, where tougher border controls have prevented passage into the UK by vehicle. As a result, many are attempting a dangerous crossing over the freezing Channel in unsuitable vessels. One dinghy was found to contain 12 people, including a young boy. The majority of those attempting to cross are believed to be Iranian nationals who have travelled through Europe.
In response, additional Border Force patrols have been allocated to the Channel, and stricter controls have been established at both the French and English borders. The Home Secretary and French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner will meet later this month to firm up their ‘enhanced action plan’, which is expected to include tougher border controls and a permanent border patrol presence.
Is there a crisis in progress?
Not everyone is as concerned about the attempted crossings as the Government and the media. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has accused Javid and the Government of ‘whipping up fears’ about migration, ahead of the crucial Brexit vote which is expected to take place later this month.
“There’s no crisis happening – people are getting across and they always have,” Help Refugees manager Maddy Allen told the Independent. “But all these images of border force in the Channel is putting a different and unnecessary spin on the situation.” Former immigration enforcement official David Wood shares this view, telling the Telegraph he “raised an eyebrow” at the major incident declaration.