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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The number of migrants seeking to reach the UK’s shores in small boats has a hit a record high even as the government outlined its vision for the “world’s most effective and efficient” border by 2025.
Helicopters patrolled the skies over the English Channel on Thursday to try to spot small craft crammed with migrants trying to cross to Britain illegally from France.
More than 2,400 have tried to cross the waterway, which narrows to only 21 miles, in 2020, already up sharply from the record set in 2019, according to Migration Watch which campaigns for tighter immigration measures. It said 1,892 people tried to cross illegally into Britain throughout the whole of 2019.
The surge in numbers comes despite the UK paying £114 million (Dh533m) to France since 2015 for extra security measures on the northern French coastline to try to stem the flow.
The money has been spent on increased patrols, night-vision goggles, security cameras and increased aerial surveillance using drones but the number of arrivals has continued to increase.
Figures released by the government suggested that more than half of those detained in the first three months of the year were from Iran.
Officials said that those seeking to cross by boat represent only a small proportion of the undocumented migrants hoping to cross into Britain.
But tighter border controls because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the dangerous nature of the boat crossings in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes has drawn political and media attention. Pictures emerged this week of hundreds of boats used in past crossings held in storage at a high-security warehouse in the port town of Dover.
Home Secretary Priti Patel – following the lead of her predecessor, Sajid Javid – has repeatedly met her French counterpart to discuss migration between the two coutnries. The latest visit last week saw the two countries sign an agreement for an intelligence cell focused on criminal trafficking gangs.
But tensions remain over efforts to stem the crossings. Julian Lewis, an MP formerly of the ruling Conservative Party, told Parliament last month that French patrol boats appeared to be escorting “dangerously overloaded inflatables” across the Channel until they reached UK waters so they would be taken to British ports.
The UK government has pledged to return undocumented migrants to the European country where non-EU migrants first landed under a 2013 agreement.
But other European countries took back only 7 per cent of migrants from about 19,000 requests made by the UK from 2015 to 2018, according to official figures.
The government on Thursday launched a consultation on its future border arrangements after leaving the EU earlier this year.
It said it had an “ambitious vision to build the world’s most effective and efficient border over the next five years”.
“Serious and organised crime, including organised immigration crime, will continue to exploit border vulnerabilities with increasing levels of sophistication, particularly around the UK coastline,” it said.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said: “By taking advantage of our new independence, we will be able to get a proper grip on exactly who and what comes in and out of the country and give our dedicated Border Force personnel new tools to catch criminals, whilst improving the flow of goods to make the UK border the most effective in the world by 2025.”
Updated: July 22, 2020 08:32 PM
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