15,000 Illegals Tried to Cross English Channel in Small Boats in 2020

Migrants, including women and children, in a dinghy, react as they approach the southern B
SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

Some 15,000 illegal aliens attempted to cross the English Channel from Continental Europe in small boats in 2020, according to the European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol.

Europol said in figures released on Thursday that from January to mid-December 2020, “law enforcement authorities of concerned countries registered more than 1,300 incidents involving more than 15,000 [illegal aliens] crossing the English Channel in small boats”.

That figure includes successful crossings, attempted crossing stopped by European authorities, and the discovery of nautical equipment associated with illegal crossings. An estimated 8,500 people landed in the United Kingdom last year, though that does not include those that managed to evade detection by UK Border Force, slipping into the underground economy.

The document says that the United Kingdom remains “among the preferred destination countries” for illegals, with most departures taking place from the north of France — Calais and Dunkirk — and to a lesser extent the coast of Belgium.

“A first sharp increase was recorded in October 2018, and since 2019, the number of incidents involving migrant smuggling in small boats (rigid inflatable boats or rigid hull inflatable boats) across the English Channel has been increasing. This trend has continued, and the number of incidents has further significantly increased throughout 2020.

“In 2020, it was the main modus operandi employed by migrant smuggling networks offering smuggling services from the EU to the UK and more commonly encountered than the facilitation in lorries or other vehicles using the Channel Tunnel,” the report said.

Europol said that for many years, migrants smuggled in the back of lorries coming from France, Belgium, and the Netherlands had been the “most common” method of illegal migration across the English Channel, with boat landings only occurring “occasionally”.

The organisation estimates multiple factors had resulted in the shift from illegals and criminal people-smuggling gangs switching from lorry to small boat, including more systematic customs controls being introduced in February 2020 in the Channel Tunnel between Calais and Dover, as well as an extension of the fencing along the roads of Calais to the Chunnel.

Measures to restrict the movement of people from Continental Europe to the British Isles since March due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic was also a factor.

Europol also believes that migrants would rather take a small boat out into the busiest waterway in the world rather than risk suffocating in the back of a lorry, as a recent case had demonstrated.

Facilitating illegal journeys is coordinated by “several organised crime groups”, according to Europol, which are believed to operate in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands as well as in Britain, charging €3,000 (£2,664/$3,647) per person. These groups are responsible for some of the “mass departures involving several boats departing simultaneously”.

In December, a report revealed that French investigators estimate that there are some 100 people-smuggling outfits running illegals across the English Channel, some earning £1 million a month in offering “VIP” travel services for migrants.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel had previously indicated that the British authorities might finally start turning migrant boats back to France instead of bringing them the rest of the way to England after the Brexit “transition” expired at the end of 2020, but so far this has not happened.

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