Britain sends ships to tackle migrant crossing surge

by Robin MILLARD
British interior minister Sajid Javid said two Border Force ships deployed in the Channel would balance protecting human life with protecting Britain's borders

Britain announced Monday it will deploy two border patrol ships in the Channel in response to a surge in migrants crossing from France in dinghies.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the interior minister, said the Border Force ships would balance protecting human life with protecting Britain's borders.

In December, around 230 people tried to make the 21-mile (33-kilometre) journey from France to Britain, Javid said.

The attempts, chiefly by Iranian nationals, to cross one of the world's busiest shipping lanes have been made in dinghies and other small craft.

Javid -- the bookmakers' favourite to become the next leader of the governing Conservative Party -- cut short his Christmas family holiday in South Africa to take personal control of the situation.

He said he was redeploying two Border Force cutters from the Mediterranean to the Channel, to join one cutter already on the scene and two other coastal patrol vessels.

"It's both about protecting human life but also about protecting our borders," Javid said after meeting senior officials from the Border Force and the National Crime Agency.

"I want to make sure that we are doing all we can to protect people.

"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."

- Trafficking gangs targeted -

Javid said about 230 migrants had sought to cross the Channel in December but "just under half have actually been disrupted by the French" and did not reach British waters.

He said efforts were being stepped up to tackle people smugglers and to return migrants to France.

Britain and France agreed Sunday to boost bilateral cooperation over the spike.

In the coming weeks, the two countries will increase surveillance patrols, efforts to dismantle trafficking gangs and awareness about the dangers of crossing the Channel.

In a message to would-be migrants, Javid said: "We will do everything we can to make sure it is not a success, in the sense that I don't want people to think that if they leave a safe country like France they can get to Britain and then just get to stay.

"That's why I am working out ways with the French to increase the number of returns."

Arrivals on southeast England's Kent coast spiked over the Christmas period, with British authorities finding 43 people on December 25 and 26.

On Thursday, British border officials found 23 Iranians in three locations in Kent, hours after French maritime authorities intercepted 11 migrants in a small boat.

And on Sunday, authorities intercepted six Iranians near the Kent coast.

A group of 12 migrants -- nine men, two women and a 10-year-old child -- were detained after landing on a Kent beach in a dinghy on Monday, the Home Office said. They presented themselves as Iranian.

"They all received a medical assessment and have now been transferred to immigration officials for interview," a Home Office spokesman said.

British interior minister Sajid Javid said two Border Force ships deployed in the Channel would balance protecting human life with protecting Britain's borders