Migrants crossing the English Channel has become 'major incident,' UK says

Migrants aboard a rubber boat are seen after being intercepted by French authorities, off the port of Calais, northern France, on Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018.


By SIOBHÁN O'GRADY | The Washington Post | Published: December 29, 2018

Late on a November evening this year, the French coast guard noticed something unusual: A fishing trawler crossing the English Channel, taking a "bizarre" route.

It turned out the trawler was stolen. Onboard was a group of migrants, who were detained as soon as they landed on British soil.

In the past two months, at least 221 migrants have tried to cross from France to Britain by way of the channel, BBC reported this week. Both French and British officials have warned that the voyage is exceedingly dangerous, with a high volume of large ships using the busy shipping lane.

The BBC reported that after arresting two smugglers earlier this year, police compared crossing the channel in a small boat to "trying to cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot," referring to one of Britain's busiest roadways. Both smugglers were sentenced to eight years in prison.

As the number of migrants attempting the risky crossing continues to grow, there is now mounting concern that it's "only a matter of time before people lose their lives," the Home Office - the British equivalent of the Interior Ministry - said in a statement this week.

This week, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid asked that his government department "treat the situation as a major incident."

And NBC News reported on Saturday that Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said Javid was leaving his family vacation early to address the increase in crossings.

In November, French authorities said there had been nearly double as many rescue attempts on the channel in 2018 as there had been the previous year, the Telegraph reported.

Some come on stolen fishing boats and others on rubber dinghies. "Some of this is clearly facilitated by organized crime groups, while other attempts appear to be opportunistic," CNN quoted Nokes, the immigration minister, as saying. Some migrants may be attempting to reach British shores before Brexit negotiations are complete.

The uptick in dangerous crossings has led some lawmakers to call for an increase in British boats patrolling the channel. Charlie Elphicke, a Parliament member for Dover who backed the controversial shutting down of the Calais migrant camp in France in 2016, said in a Facebook post on Friday that with "two cutters in operation to patrol more than 7,000 miles of coastline it's no wonder more and more people are attempting this perilous crossing."

"It's time to bring back our boats before there is a tragedy in the English Channel," he said.

Migrants staying in the camp in Calais often attempted to reach Britain by hopping onto trucks crossing between the two countries. Increased security on trucks has made it more difficult for migrants to access Britain that way.

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