The UK government on Monday (31) was struggling to find a solution to an escalating crisis involving small boats of migrants crossing the English Channel from France to seek refuge in Britain.
Most of the migrants are from the Middle East, with a latest group of 12 Iranians detained from a dinghy off the Kent coastline. UK home secretary Sajid Javid cut short his Christmas and New Year holiday to return to work on Monday to chair a crisis meeting with Border Force officials in an attempt to find a solution.
In a column in The Daily Telegraph, Javid described the rise in perilous attempts to cross the English Channel as “deeply concerning” and vowed that the government “will not stand by and allow reckless criminals to take advantage of some of the most vulnerable in our global society”.
“The weather conditions are often treacherous and the inflatable boats being used are woefully ill-equipped to make such a dangerous journey,” he wrote, amid growing criticism from within his own Conservative Party ranks of not doing enough to stem the crisis.
“The migrants who choose to make the journey are putting their lives in grave danger,” he said.
After the detention of the latest set of migrants on Monday morning, the UK Home Office said: “They all received a medical assessment and have now been transferred to immigration officials for interview.”
Over 100 migrants have travelled from France to the UK in dinghies and other small vessels over the Christmas period. The rise in the dangerous journeys is believed to be fuelled by instability in the Middle East, organised crime and tighter security at Calais in France.
“The reasons behind the increased crossings are complicated and in many cases outside of our control. Unfortunately, this means that there are no easy answers. So our response is focused both here in the UK and abroad,” said Javid, who had declared a “major incident” on Friday after dozens of migrants in small boats arrived on the Kent coast during the course of the week.
The minister is discussing the problem with Border Force, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and other officials in an attempt to curb the increasing flow of migrants.
Calls for additional patrol boats on England’s Strait of Dover are not seen as an optimal solution because such boats could end up more as rescue vessels for migrants in trouble.
The UK’s Opposition Labour Party has accused the government of “whipping up” migration fears in the lead up to a crucial parliamentary vote on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial Brexit deal later this month.
“People are being whipped up about migration issues, because the government thinks this is the best way of frightening people to vote for their (Brexit) deal,” said Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary.
British politicians are split between turning the desperate migrants back or welcoming them in.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We have a duty to reach out the hand of humanity, support and friendship to people who are in danger and seeking a place of safety.”