UK vows action after record-high migrant crossing of Channel

LONDON (AP) — The British government vowed Friday to strengthen border measures after a record daily number of people crossed the English Channel to the U.K. in small boats.

At least 235 migrants in 17 boats landed or were picked up by British Coast Guard and Border Force boats on Thursday, surpassing last week’s record of 202 arrivals in one day.

One group on a beach in southeast England included a woman who appeared to be heavily pregnant.

Boats continued to arrive on Friday. In the major Channel port of Dover, children in life jackets, some too young to walk, were lifted out of Border Force boats and taken ashore in England.

Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, either in trucks through the Channel tunnel or on ferries. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.K.’s strong economy and need for farm and restaurant labor drew migrants from around the world who could speak some English.

Some have turned to small boats organized by smugglers because lockdowns have reduced opportunities to stow away on ferries and trucks. Fine summer weather is also prompting more people to make the risky sea crossing — about 20 miles (32 kilometers) at its narrowest point — in vessels as small as dinghies and kayaks.

Britain’s Conservative government has called on French officials to do more to force boats in the Channel back to France. They say France is a safe country and there is no reason migrants should travel from there to the U.K.

Just last month, British Home Secretary Priti Patel and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin agreed to set up a French-British intelligence unit to crack down on what Patel called “gangs behind vile people smuggling.”

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said Britain’s immigration minister will go to France next week for talks about “further measures and stronger measures as required to stop and reduce the tide of boats coming.”

“I think people are absolutely right to be frustrated at the scenes they’re seeing. I’m frustrated, everyone is, which is why we’ve been working much more closely with the French government in recent time to improve our cooperation and intelligence-sharing,” Sunak told Sky News.

Sunak declined to comment on reports the U.K. could send Royal Navy ships to patrol the Channel. That has been suggested previously by British politicians.

Conservative lawmaker Natalie Elphicke, who represents Dover in Parliament, said “all options need to be on the table.”

“What we must make sure is that boats are deployed not to bring people into this country but to return them to France, and for the French to do more to make sure that those boats don’t leave in the first place,” Elphicke said.

Bella Sankey of human rights charity Detention Action said many migrants had legitimate reasons to go to Britain, such as relatives in the country. She said the British government should offer safe and legal routes for them to come.

“This would end the crossings overnight and ensure we are standing by our age-old tradition of protecting those seeking sanctuary on our shores,” she said.

“Trying to make this route ‘unviable’ through greater enforcement is naive grandstanding and amounts to more of the same.”

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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