The first migrants to cross the Channel in small boats this year shouted “UK, we love you” as they were brought into Dover by rescue teams.
At least 65 men, women, children and a baby were intercepted by RNLI and Border Force rescue teams yesterday. They are the first to arrive in 2022 after a record-breaking 28,381 came last year, triple the number for 2020.
Among them was a little girl wearing a pink onesie, who was carried ashore to Dover by a man believed to be her father.
The first group to arrive included about 40 men and women and five young children, brought into the port on an RNLI lifeboat at about 11am. Video posted online showed the group smiling and waving as they were brought into the harbour, with one migrant blowing kisses at the camera. They were led off the lifeboat before being taken to the immigration processing centre.
About 20 more migrants arrived yesterday afternoon after being rescued by the Border Force vessel Hurricane. One was seen overlapping his hands and spreading his fingers to mimic the shape of a dove, which is commonly used to signify freedom and peace.
A number of Border Force and French boats were active in the Channel amid renewed attempts to cross the dangerous waters.
Yesterday’s crossings are the first since 36 people reached Britain on December 27. A record 67 people arrived on Christmas Day as people smugglers took advantage of fewer patrols on French beaches.
On Monday a Home Office minister said that the government was reforming its approach to asylum by “making the tough decisions to end the overt exploitation of our laws and UK taxpayers”. Tom Pursglove said: “Seeking asylum for protection should not involve people ‘asylum-shopping’ country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel.”
An average of 78 migrants a day crossed the Channel in 2021 as the annual total reached 28,381.
People-smugglers ferried them across in a total of 1,020 boats, an average of three a day, with hundreds more stopped by the French authorities before they reached UK waters.
Despite the record crossings in 2021, officials are expecting even higher numbers this year as new powers in the Nationality and Borders Bill, such as new reception centres and offshore asylum processing, are likely to take more than a year to come into effect.
A deal to return migrants to France and other European countries is also unlikely to materialise for months, if at all. Ministers are hopeful of bolstering co-operation with France over joint patrols but have given up on hope of signing a deal before the French presidential elections in April. One senior government source said: “If it looks bad now, it’s going to look much worse in spring when it’s warmer.”
Last night the Home Office confirmed that 66 migrants had crossed the Channel in two boats, while the French authorities intercepted a further 38 from reaching the UK in one boat.
Pursglove said: “This government is reforming our approach to illegal entry to the UK and asylum by making the tough decisions to end the overt exploitation of our laws and its impact on UK taxpayers. The public have rightly had enough of the blatant disregard of our immigration laws and we are bringing in necessary long-term changes.
“The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country. It will also strengthen the powers of Border Force to stop and redirect vessels, while introducing new powers to remove asylum seekers to have their claims processed outside the UK.”