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Channel crossings could top 50,000 this year as gangs overwhelm border crackdown

A surge in small boat crossings means the number of migrants crossing the Channel is on course to hit a record 50,000 in 2024.

It would mean a record annual number of asylum seekers making the perilous Channel journey, surpassing the previous high of almost 46,000 in 2022.

A Border Force union official said better weather and new tactics from criminal gangs trying to overwhelm police with mass launches on French beaches were fuelling the spike.

On Sunday, another nine vessels carrying 442 migrants were picked up in UK waters, the second highest daily figure this year.

So far, 5,435 people have crossed from France in small boats in 2024 compared with 4,548 by the same period in 2022, a leap of almost 20 per cent.

If numbers crossing were to continue to rise by a fifth compared with 2022, it could mean up to 55,000 arriving in Kent this year.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, from a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Saturday March 30, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Migrants. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Migrants are brought ashore at Dover from a Border Force vessel on Saturday 30 March (Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

The current record number of crossings in 2022 when 45,756 people arrived was more than 150 times higher than the 299 recorded in 2018, the year the small boat crisis started.

It comes as i revealed that Rishi Sunak’s “stop the boats” policy was given Home Office “red” at risk ratings because progress on key elements is being stalled by ministerial indecision.

Lucy Moreton, an official for Border Force union Immigration Services Union (ISU) said crossings had “absolutely surged” for a number of reasons.

“The weather is good. The traffic has been displaced as we said it would be, with the very aggressive French tactics which were successful throughout the latter part of last year,” she told i.

“It’s led to movement down the coast so people are leaving from slightly more remote beaches than they were.

“But also just trying to overwhelm the French with sheer numbers and clearly that works.

“The French are on the beaches trying to catch people. They also now use a somewhat controversial technique when they are very close to the shore, so when you can stand in the water they will try and tip the dinghies over.

“But you can only do that to one dinghy at a time. So you launch 10 of them, the French might get five, but five will get through.”

The same tactic had been used in 2022, she said, with the current methods being used by gangs a variation on that.

In 2022, i revealed how trafficking gangs sending hundreds of migrants a day across the Channel in small boats from France were resorting to launching dinghies on inland rivers to avoid police surveillance and capture.

Starting the crossings miles inland by placing dinghies in rivers heading to the sea in the Calais region was a shift in tactics deployed by smuggling gangs as migrant arrivals reached record levels.

Last month, a seven-year-old girl died when a vessel carrying 16 people capsized in the Aa canal a few kilometres from the Channel coast.

The UK has paid for more French policing to patrol beaches, with the government pledging to give France about £480m from 2022 to 2026.

While “aggressive” police tactics had proved successful initially, it had led to a build-up of people waiting to cross, said Ms Moreton.

Gangs continuing to send boats carrying larger numbers of migrants was also a factor with 105 dinghies detected making the crossing in 2024 so far, with an average of 47 people on each craft.

Border Force staff were also seeing an increase in migrants making the crossing by hiding on lorries, Ms Moreton said.

Recent Home Office figures show a 16 per cent year-on-year increase in migrants smuggled into the UK in vehicles or ferries, indicating an uptick in attempted lorry crossings as French police clampdown on small boat crossings.

Although there has been an increase in fatal crossings in recent months, with nine deaths so far this year compared to 12 in total in 2023, it did not appear to be deterring migrants from trying to reach England.

“Nobody comes this far to say ‘it’s got a bit difficult’ and go home,” Ms Moreton added.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The unacceptable number of people who continue to cross the Channel demonstrates exactly why we must get flights to Rwanda off the ground as soon as possible.

“We continue to work closely with French police who are facing increasing violence and disruption on their beaches as they work tirelessly to prevent these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys.

“We remain committed to building on the successes that saw arrivals drop by more than a third last year, including tougher legislation and agreements with international partners, in order to save lives and stop the boats.”

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