The French Coastguard has warned that the migrant boat tragedies seen daily in the Mediterranean Sea could soon happen in the English Channel, as 20 people were rescued from a sinking boat off the coast of Kent on Saturday night.
At about 11.40pm on Saturday an alarm was raised, saying that a rigid-hulled inflatable boat carrying migrants across the English Channel from France had started to take on water. The call for assistance came from France after the migrants on board contacted their families back in Calais to appeal for help.
A large-scale rescue mission was launched — involving a coastguard helicopter from Lydd with two lifeboats from Dungeness and Littlestone — and the boat was located at 2am on Sunday. All 20 on board — including 18 Albanians and two Britons — were rescued off the coast of Dymchurch in Kent, in the operation which also involved rescue teams from Dungeness and Folkestone, and a helicopter from Le Touquet in France.
Eyewitnesses told Sky News the inflatable was close enough to shore for rescuers to wade out to them, and their lives were not actually at risk by the time they were recovered.
The Home Office has said the rescued migrants are currently with UK Border Force officers. Typically that means they will be screened and interviewed, offered medical treatment, and given the opportunity to apply for asylum.
President of the French coastguard, Bernard Barron, told Sky News: “It’s starting to become a very similar situation to that seen in the Mediterranean and my biggest fear is that the same kind of tragedies we see in Greece or Italy will start to repeat in the Channel.”
With tightened security and cooperation between French and British authorities Mr. Barron said it has become “virtually impossible now for migrants to cross into the UK through the Tunnel or on car ferries”, and so “smugglers have now found a new strategy”. He explained:
“They operate across the length of both the French and Belgian coastlines, between Ostend and into Normandy, finding new positions from where they can send their clients — the migrants — towards England.
“These smugglers — despite being given large sums of money — provide methods of transport for the migrants that are not suitable for crossing a sea like the English Channel. It’s a sea filled with danger, with strong currents, storms and heavy traffic of larger vessels.”
In April, two Iranian migrants were rescued on an inflatable dinghy off Kent. As Breitbart London previously reported,the men had no idea where they were, but were located after staff on a passing ferry spotted the light from their mobile phone.
On Tuesday this week, 17 suspected Albanian migrants and a British man subject to a European Arrest Warrant on suspicion of murder in Spain were detained after arriving by catamaran at Chichester Marina in West Sussex.
The Mail on Sunday reports Councillor Mary Lawes, UKIP’s group leader on Shepway District Council, expressing her concern for the security of the region as well as the safety of migrants. She said:
“We are not doing enough to control our coastline, the Government has to address border controls, something has to be done to protect these people from harm and our borders.”
The problem is likely to be exacerbated by an underfunded response from the British government. As the Sunday Times reports, the UK Border Force faces severe cuts meaning it operates just three of its fleet of five ‘cutter’ vessels, far fewer than those employed by France and Italy. The cutters operating in UK waters can only sail for 48 hours from their home port in Portsmouth, Hampshire, despite covering 7,700 miles of coastline.
In reality this means the boats get no further than the English Channel, leaving huge swathes of Britain’s coastline unguarded and open to people or drugs smuggling at a time when French and Dutch authorities reported soaring numbers of arrests and prosecutions for smuggling people into the UK.
The Guardian reports that one of the Border Force’s five cutters is currently deployed in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey.