Two more Border Force cutters will patrol the English Channel after scores of migrants risked the perilous crossing over the Christmas period, Sajid Javid has announced.
The Home Secretary cut short a family holiday in South Africa to take personal control of the situation following criticism of the Government’s response.
Mr Javid said 230 migrants had sought to cross the Channel in December alone, with just under half prevented from leaving the continent by the French authorities.
This year, 539 migrants have attempted to travel to the UK on small boats, with children as young as nine risking the crossing.
Of these, 434 made their attempts in the last three months of the year.
Some 227 migrants were intercepted by the French before they made it to the UK.
The Home Office revealed a group of 12 migrants, including a 10-year-old child, were detained after landing on a Kent beach on Monday morning.
– Better co-operation between French and UK law enforcement agencies
– More work on disrupting attempts to cross the Channel “both directly but also in more covert ways”
– The Government was doing “everything we can” to ensure migrants are returned to France where possible.
But the Home Secretary acknowledged that if Border Force vessels pick up migrants in British waters, they would be taken to port in Britain.
Mr Javid, who held talks with Whitehall chiefs on Monday, said the “major incident” remained a “very serious concern”.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes warned just days ago that deploying additional craft could act as a “magnet” for migrants by encouraging them to risk the crossing.
Speaking after a meeting with senior officials from the National Crime Agency and Border Force, he said: “It’s both about protecting human life but also about protecting our borders.
“When it comes to human life, clearly I want to make sure that we are doing all we can to protect people.
“We must remember that this is one of the most treacherous stretches of water that there is, 21 miles with people taking grave risk, really putting their lives into their own hands by taking this journey.”
The Home Secretary’s actions were welcomed by Dover’s Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, who had urged the authorities to “get a grip” on the situation.
Mr Elphicke, who has asked Mr Javid to come to Dover so meet those dealing with the issue, said: “I welcome the move to bring back our Border Force cutters to help maintain safety and security on our borders, this is something I have been calling for and am delighted the Home Secretary has listened.
“This makes it even more important we put renewed pressure on the French government to play their role in tackling this crisis, preventing these crossings from happening at all.”
British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson urged the Government to provide migrants with “safe alternatives” to the “harrowing” Channel crossing.
He said: “People only attempt perilous journeys like crossing the Channel because they are desperate.
“It is deeply concerning that men, women and children feel they have no choice but to put their lives at risk in their search for a safe place to live.”