UK steps up efforts against Channel migrants

A dinghy and life-jackets, believed to have been taken from migrants, arrive in the port of Dover, in England, on Aug 9, 2020.
A dinghy and life-jackets, believed to have been taken from migrants, arrive in the port of Dover, in England, on Aug 9, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - The British government on Sunday (Aug 9) appointed a former marine to lead efforts to tackle illegal migration in the English Channel ahead of talks with France on how to stop the dangerous crossings.

Warm weather and calm seas have in recent days seen a surge in attempts by migrants in France to cross the busy shipping channel on makeshift boats, aiming for the English coast.

With photographs of the new arrivals splashed across British newspapers each day, Home Secretary Priti Patel has become increasingly vocal in demanding action - even mooting bringing in the Royal Navy.

On Sunday, she appointed former Royal Marine Dan O'Mahoney, a maritime security expert, to take on a new role as the government's "clandestine Channel threat commander".

"The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling," she said.

"We are working to make this route unviable and arresting the criminals facilitating these crossings and making sure they are brought to justice.

"Dan's appointment is vital to cutting this route by bringing together all operational partners in the UK and in France."

Ms Patel visited the French port of Calais last month to agree a new joint police unit to share intelligence on trafficking networks and her immigration minister, Mr Chris Philp, is due in Paris for further talks on Tuesday.

Britain's interior ministry has made a formal request for the Royal Navy to help but campaigners warn any military intervention to stop boats could be dangerous and could face legal challenges.


The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that officials were planning for naval and border force vessels to pick up the migrants and take them directly back to northern France.

However, the deal will require French involvement and the newspaper said Paris was asking for £30 million (S$53.71 million) from London to help fund patrols.

The French government declined to comment on the potential payment but confirmed it was in the final stages of drawing up a joint plan with Britain.

It noted that patrol boats are making daily interventions although Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told Ms Patel last month that "more resources" were needed.

Since Jan 1, the French authorities have intercepted at least 810 migrants trying to cross the Channel to England, according to official figures tabulated by AFP.

The French interior ministry said that between January and July 2020, authorities had stopped five times as many crossings as in the same period last year - and ten times as many in July alone.

However, analysis from Britain's PA news agency shows more than 4,100 people this year have successfully made the journey to England, with 151 arriving on Saturday.