U.K. home secretary declares migrant crossings a 'major incident'

By Sommer Brokaw

Dec. 29 (UPI) -- U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid has declared the growing number of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel in small boats a "major incident."

Ninety-four migrants have been detained since Christmas Day while attempting to cross the English Channel to Great Britain from France.


Two inflatable boats, carrying 12 men from Syria and Iran, were intercepted on Friday alone.

The more recent numbers are in addition to at least 250 migrants intercepted in the first 11 months of the year, including 65, mostly from Iran, in the last three weeks of November, The Guardian reported.

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Javid appointed a gold commander to deal with the crisis and asked for an urgent call with his French counterpart to deal with the issue.

"The British and French authorities have known for some time about the risks posed by criminal gangs of people smugglers along the coast," said Yvetter Cooper, chair of the House of Commons home affairs committee. "They have been active in encampments over many years but much more coordinated French and British action is needed to tackle them."


Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said in a statement that attempting to cross the channel in these small boats is "extremely dangerous," adding that some of the activity is facilitated by organized crime groups.

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"The number of incidents over recent days is deeply concerning," Nokes' statement said. "Some of this is clearly facilitated by organized crime groups while other attempts appear to be opportunistic."

"We are in close and continual contact with the French authorities and law enforcement partners including through the new U.K.-France Coordination and Information Centre which opened in Calais at the end of last month to tackle criminality at the border," Nokes added.

Members of Parliament called for increased patrolling of the coast.

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"These are extremely dangerous circumstances in which people are choosing to cross borders," MP Diane Abbott said. "We have a duty to those at risk in British waters, but we also have a duty to refugees, many of whom are fleeing war, poverty and persecution."

"Our focus needs to be on much better cooperation with the French authorities, and European nations as a whole to create safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum," Abbott added. "No one should feel they have no option but to risk their lives in this way."


David Wood, a former head of immigration enforcement, said the government should change its policy to return migrants to France once they are picked up and stop "Britain's border force, coastguards and lifeboats," from "being used as a taxi service for migrants."

Bridget Chapman, of the charity Kent Refugee Action Network, said the situation was partly due to U.K. measures to "beef up the security around Calais."

"We've put a big fence up to prevent people from accessing trains and lorries and people are resorting to other methods to get here," she told the BBC.

"It's winter, but the weather has been quite good. And I expect people traffickers are exploiting people, saying, 'You know, things are going to tighten up after Brexit, you need to go now.'"

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