From file: Just some of the more than 9,500 migrants who made it across the Channel to the UK in 2020. (Picture from December 7 2020) | Photo: Gareth Fuller / empics / picture-alliance
From file: Just some of the more than 9,500 migrants who made it across the Channel to the UK in 2020. (Picture from December 7 2020) | Photo: Gareth Fuller / empics / picture-alliance

Over the weekend, more than 150 migrants arrived in the UK after attempting to cross the Channel between mainland Europe and Britain. More than 50 were arrested by French authorities and brought back to France. In 2020, more than 9,500 made it across the water -- the numbers more than quadrupled on 2019 figures.

More than 150 migrants arrived in England over the weekend of January 9-10. That's according to British public broadcaster BBC on January 11.

The French press agency Agence France Presse (AFP) added that "more than 50 migrants, including three children" had been rescued by French authorities in the same time period, when their attempts to cross the water towards the UK were aborted in "freezing conditions."

Despite the winter cold, Brexit, the coronavirus, as well as increasing controls on both sides of the sea, it seems attempts to cross the Channel see no sign of abating as we enter a new year. AFP reported that in 2020, the numbers attempting to cross the Channel "more than quadrupled" in 2020, seeing "more than 9,500 people" make it across the sea.

Numbers of Channel crossings 'more than triple' in 2020

Their numbers were based on statements from French maritime officials, explained AFP. The French authorities said that they had recorded a total of 868 "incidents involving attempts or crossings of migrants by boat" in the Channel during 2020.

The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and subject to strong currents and fast changing weather. Six people are reported to have died and three went missing during 2020, a slight increase on numbers in 2019, when four deaths were recorded on "just 203 crossings and attempted crossings."

Migrant boats on the coast near Calais in September 2020 | Photo: Mehdi Chebil
Migrant boats on the coast near Calais in September 2020 | Photo: Mehdi Chebil


More than 50 taken back to France

On Sunday, the French authorities plucked 24 people from several different small boats after the freezing temperatures forced those hoping to cross to abandon their attempt and make a distress call.

Early on Monday, AFP said that the French maritime authorities for the North Sea and the Channel rescued another 30 people attempting the same route. A press release from the Maritime prefect for the Channel and the North Sea stated that search-and-rescue authorities went to the aid of a small boat carrying 18 people after a passing ferry had alerted them that the small boat was in difficulty.

On board this boat were one woman and three children. They were taken back to the port of Calais. A second boat carrying 12 migrants was found in difficulty off the coast of Boulogne. They were located via helicopter and a boat was sent out from Boulogne to pick them up and bring them into port.

"Everyone was safe and sound thanks to the efficiency of the authorities who rescued them," stated the press release. They repeated the warning that attempts to cross this stretch of the sea are dangerous and that winds often exceed force seven in the area making it "dangerous to human life."

Smugglers 'refining their strategies'

The president of the Auberge des Migrants association in Calais, Francois Guennoc, told AFP that smugglers had been "refining their strategies" and had seen "increased success rates," during 2020. He said as the authorities cracked down on those trying to stow away on trucks and trains headed under the sea via the Eurotunnel, the smugglers had worked out ways of launching several boats at once in the hope that "at least some will evade detection."

The British and French authorities have been cooperating closely over the last year to try and crack down on the crossings and the two governments signed a new accord in November, with Britain promising significant cash contributions in return for increased police patrols on the French side.

In August, the UK government appointed Dan O’Mahoney, a former Royal Marine commando, a Clandestine Channel Threat Commander in 2020 to lead efforts to crack down on the crossings.

Part of his "new role," according to the Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel, was "helping to end heinous crime of people smuggling across Channel."

From file: A policeman on patrol on the coast of Calais | Photo: Reuters
From file: A policeman on patrol on the coast of Calais | Photo: Reuters


More than 150 migrants arrive in England over the weekend

Both authorities are now making use of radars and drones, as well as increasing patrols at the border in order to spot boats more quickly, in the hope of stopping them on the French side before they enter British waters.

Yet hundreds have managed to get through this year already. On Saturday, the British Border Force told the BBC it had "dealt with 103 people on six boats." One boat carrying about 30 people was picked up about 23 miles off the south coast near high cliffs known as Beachy Head after the boat "got into difficulty."

On Sunday, the British Home Office (interior ministry) confirmed to the BBC that "another 57 people in four incidents were dealt with by the UK." The government told the BBC that it intended to "assess each person and look to return those with no legal right to remain."

Chris Philp, the minister in charge of immigration compliance at the Home Office told the BBC that "legistlative changes to the law are being made to enable cases to be treated as inadmissible if [the migrants] have traveled through a safe country [like France]."

Conversely, the European border agency Frontex confirmed that crossings into the EU overall were down in 2020 by 13% on the previous year's figures.

 

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