More than 27,000 people have been arrested for illegally entering Britain in the last three years alone, new figures obtained from police departments have revealed.
According to statistics gathered from 39 police forces in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland through a Freedom of Information request lodged by the BBC, 7,709 people were arrested for entering the country illegally in 2013.
That figure rose slightly in 2014 to 7,913, and rose again more drastically the following year to 9,600, as Europe struggled to cope with the mass migration of over a million people northwards from Africa and the Middle East.
The total over the period from January 2013 to April this year was 27,800. Most of the arrests were made at motorway service stations and truck stops, the migrants having concealed themselves aboard lorries to enter the country.
The Metropolitan Police, which covers London, made the most arrests during the period – 6,843 in total – while Thames Valley Police were next on the list with 2,107, marginally ahead of Kent, home to the port of Dover, which recorded 2,092 arrests.
Four forces, including Police Scotland, did not hand over any figures, while others gave only partial figures, meaning the true number is likely to be even higher.
The data comes just days after the French authorities in Calais warned that illegal border crossings by migrants hiding in lorries is likely to exceed 10,000 this year; a figure the Home Office suggested was “exaggerated”.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the figures were in contradiction to the government’s claims that it had “water-tight security at our borders”, and proved instead that they were not secure.
“If 27,000 people have been arrested for entering the country illegally by our police forces, then it shows that this problem is even worse than we had anticipated and we expect urgent action to be taken,” he told the BBC.
Chris Hobbs, a former Special Branch ports officer, commented: “Obviously these people are still getting through.
“And these are the ones that are being detected by police. What about the ones who are getting through undetected, who simply disappear?
“The figures really are unacceptably high. We are an island and really we’re not making full advantage of the fact that we are surrounded by sea. We should be doing far better, and the figures are appalling.”
The figure does not include people who overstay their visas, nor those detained at ports and airports, who are dealt with by Border Force officers. Meanwhile, a separate FOI request has found that officials at ports in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands intercepted 145,157 would-be migrants to the UK from 2013 to the end of March 2016.
The Home Office has insisted that it takes action to remove someone who is found to have no right to remain in the UK.
A spokesman said: “As part of the ongoing action we are taking to secure our borders, we have invested tens of millions of pounds to bolster security at ports in northern France.
“We are also committed to finding long-term solutions to the problem of illegal migration, which is why we created the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce last year to work with law enforcement and international partners to target the organised crime gangs behind people smuggling.”
But a migration judge recently revealed that, although the vast majority of illegal immigrants to the country are economic migrants, as few as five to ten percent of those he recommends for deportation each year actually leave the country.
Dover’s Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke said the figures proved that much more needs to be done to patrol the Channel and ensure that migrants could not cross.
“We need to not just dismantle the Jungle at Calais,” he said. “We need to deal with the camps at Dunkirk and elsewhere and by the Channel ports. We also need to deal with the problem of people-trafficking by small craft.
“That’s why I’ve been calling for a marine-led new Dover patrol to make sure that the English Channel is kept safe and secure.”