A wave of Iranian asylum seekers is attempting to cross into the UK via dinghies, a trend that has become popular in recent months. The British navy deployed a vessel Thursday to "help prevent" the crossings from France.
A British naval vessel began patrolling the English Channel on Friday in response to a wave of asylum seekers trying to cross the body of water.
The patrol vessel, the HMS Mersey, is filling the gap between France and England until two Border Force cutters return from the European Union's Mediterranean migrant crossings mission.
"HMS Mersey will deploy to the Dover Straits to assist the UK Border Force and French authorities with their response to migrant crossings," UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson told AFP. "The crew have been able to immediately divert from routine operations to help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Channel."
Home Secretary Sajid Javid expressed his support of the move on Twitter, saying, "we will do whatever it takes to protect the UK border and human life."
Increase in English Channel crossings
Attempts to cross from France into England via the English Channel have surged in recent months. There was a spike during Christmas holidays, according to AFP and AP, when there were some 40 migrants who attempted to cross the Channel on December 25. All were rescued and were in the UK as of the last update.
While the Christmas Day asylum seekers were from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran, the asylum seekers potentially waiting to cross are primarily Iranian. Chris Hogben, head of UK's organized immigration crime task force told the Financial Times that was significant, as illegal migration from Iran was complicated by the UK's policy of not returning migrants to that country due to its poor human rights record.
"All they need to do is get into British waters and call for British law enforcement's help...because we're not going to send them back," said Hogben.The Dover Strait is the narrowest section of the English Channel at just under 21 miles (34 kilometers) in width. About 539 people have crossed the Dover Strait in 2018, 80 percent of which within the last three months. Almost all of those who made it to the UK requested asylum, Javid told AFP on Wednesday. Javid also said that any migrants who were picked up in British waters would be taken to the UK port.