Britain is braced for a summer of migrant chaos after more than 1,600 arrived across the Channel in the past month – more than double last year’s total for May – and 500 were brought in over the final four days of last month alone.
This is despite Priti Patel’s announcement of an immigration crackdown in March, and following an agreement with the French authorities to crack down and effectively stop migrant crossings by last spring.
But the Home Secretary’s vow lies in tatters this summer as Home Office sources blame the French for not doing enough to stop the crossings and intercept boats before they even set sail, despite being handed part of a £6million fund of UK taxpayers’ money to do so.
Friday was the busiest day of the year so far with 336 migrants reaching Britain aboard 19 dinghies and other small boats – and Border Force workers have warned that the soaring numbers of crossing will lead to ‘mob unrest’ in crowded accommodation centres.
At present, most of the migrants who arrive in Kent are initially housed at a former army barracks in Folkestone which was set on fire in a riot over conditions in January amid a coronavirus outbreak.
Asylum seekers are free to come and go from the camp, and adults have an initial interview before being sent to accommodation centres across Britain, paid for by UK taxpayers and provided by private contractors.
The migrants are given £37.75 per week for essentials like food, clothes and toiletries while they wait for a decision on their asylum application. Kent County Council normally takes unaccompanied children into its care.
In total, May saw 1,619 migrants make the perilous journey from northern France – up 118 per cent on the 741 who arrived in May last year. In addition, there were several hundred further migrants seen arriving in Dover yesterday.
Mrs Patel has vowed to make illegal immigration across the Channel ‘unviable’ – but numbers are continuing to soar, and Dover’s Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke has called for ‘urgent action’ to stop the crossings.
So far this year the total number of migrants to reach the UK stands at 3,727 – up 115 per cent on the running total at the same point last year. This does not include yesterday’s unconfirmed figure, which is estimated at about 200.
During the whole of 2020, 8,410 people – including women and children – reached the UK. If arrivals continue at the same accelerated rate for the rest of the year, it could mean an annual total of nearly 18,000.
Witnesses estimate as many as 200 people were brought in to Dover Marina aboard a Border Force cutter yesterday
Figures have not yet been confirmed but witnesses estimate as many as 200 people were brought in to Dover yesterday
A child walks off a boat after an estimated 200 migrants were brought into Dover Marina in Kent yesterday
In total, May saw 1,619 migrants make the perilous journey from northern France – up 118 per cent on the 741 in May last year
A fire broke out at Napier Barracks in Kent in January during a riot at the site which is housing hundreds of asylum seekers
Two men leave Napier Barracks in February, which is being used by the government to house people seeking asylum in the UK
Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the ISU immigration union, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Border Force staff are feeling increasingly threatened. There is a risk of unrest from these groups.
‘They are not exhausted, beaten down and glad to be here. They know they are going to be moved into accommodation. They want to be moved into accommodation. If that doesn’t happen promptly, they get cross about it.
‘They have to be clothed but we cannot provide hot food there. They might not have eaten anything. There is a mob mentality that takes over. The vast majority are young males. The families and children are moved clear quickly.
‘These are groups of people used to acting together to get what they need and frequently we cannot understand what they are saying to each other. The numbers arriving are phenomenal.’
Apart from the 336 arrivals on Friday, there were 144 on Saturday, 17 on Sunday and 71 on Bank Holiday Monday, as people traffickers took advantage of fine weather conditions.
It made a total of 568 over the four day period. French authorities also prevented 306 migrants from crossing aboard 18 boats. A further number of migrants reached the UK yesterday.
Figures have not yet been confirmed by the Home Office but witnesses estimated as many as 200 people were brought in to Dover Marina, in Kent, aboard a Border Force cutter at around noon.
A child is guided by a Border Force official after getting off a boat at Dover Marina in Kent yesterday
Migrants arrive at the Kent coast after being brought into Britain by a Border Force cutter yesterday
Migrants arrive in Dover yesterday after travelling across the English Channel from northern France
People traffickers have been taking advantage of fine weather conditions, including off the Kent coast yesterday
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Criminal gangs are putting profits before people’s lives through these dangerous and unnecessary crossings.
‘More than 3,500 people have been prevented from making the dangerous crossing so far this year and we are cracking down on the despicable criminal gangs behind people smuggling. Inaction is not an option whilst people are dying.
‘The Government is bringing legislation forward through our New Plan for Immigration which will break the business model of these heinous people smuggling networks and save lives.’
Last year’s total was more than four times the number seen in the previous 12 months. Conservative MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke said: ‘Urgent action must be taken to stop these crossings.
‘That means tackling the criminal gangs at source, doing more to stop the small boats leaving France in the first place, turning them round in the Channel, and swiftly returning people who have entered the country through an illegal route of entry.
‘The Government’s new border system plans are straightforward and sensible but we also need more and firmer action now.’
In March, Mrs Patel unveiled a major overhaul of the UK’s asylum system as she said illegal migrants ‘should and could’ make claims in the European countries they pass through on their way to Britain.
The Home Secretary warned the current asylum system is ‘collapsing’ because of the strain placed on it by people smugglers and dangerous Channel crossings as she set out a new plan to slash the privileges of those who come to the UK via an unauthorised route.
A child holds a woman’s hand while on board a Border Force vessel after being brought into Dover yesterday
As many as 200 people were brought in to Dover Marina aboard a Border Force cutter at around noon yesterday
A dinghy at Dover Marina yesterday after an estimated 200 migrants were brought into shore on board a Border Force cutter
Witnesses estimate as many as 200 people were brought in to Dover Marina aboard a Border Force cutter yesterday
A child is pictured at Dover Marina yesterday after an estimated 200 migrants arrived at the Kent coast
However, much of Ms Patel’s crackdown will be contingent on securing agreement with other countries, particularly France, raising questions about how effectively the measures could be introduced while some illegal migrants will still be able to remain in the UK for potentially as long as 30 months.
The proposed changes will mean anyone arriving illegally who has passed through a ‘safe country’ will be considered ‘inadmissible’ to the UK’s asylum system.
The Government will seek the ‘rapid removal of inadmissible cases’ to the safe country they travelled from or to another safe third country.
Meanwhile, Border Force will be given new powers to stop and redirect small boats and those on board away from the UK if they are suspected of trying to enter the country illegally. But this proposal will require agreement from the receiving port or country.
In a bid to further deter people smugglers, the maximum sentence for such activity will be raised to life. The Government will also expand its asylum estate with the creation of new reception centres which will provide basic accommodation while cases are processed.
Mrs Patel vowed in autumn 2019 that the illegal journeys would be virtually eliminated by spring 2020, but there is mounting frustration in Whitehall that the French authorities are not doing enough to stop them.
Under the plan, patrols along the French coast were doubled and drones deployed as part of a £6million Home Office investment so the authorities in France could intercept boats before they even set sail.
People smugglers are now targeting new routes across the Channel. Small boats are increasingly also landing at Hastings, East Sussex – a crossing of 40 miles, twice the distance from Calais to Dover.
Migrants pay up to £13,000 for a place in a rickety dinghy, spurred on by the belief that if rescued by UK cutters they will be brought here.
Many asylum seekers are sent to a former army barracks in Kent despite serious concerns over conditions there.
A child wears a lifejacket on board a Border Force cutter yesterday as migrants are brought into the Kent coast at Dover
The Border Force cutter arrives at Dover Marina yesterday, with the town’s famous castle visible in the background
A dinghy is pictured at Dover Marina yesterday following the Channel crossing by an estimated 200 migrants
Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured in March) has vowed to make illegal immigration across the Channel ‘unviable’
Nearly 200 cases of Covid-19 were detected and dozens of residents had to be moved out of the military site in Folkestone, Kent, to deal with a crisis earlier this year.
The Home Office has faced repeated criticism for its use of the military site with a group of MPs condemning the conditions as ‘utterly unacceptable’.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has said it was a ‘serious error of judgment’ to think that military barracks could be suitable to house asylum seekers,
Cross-party members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel to say they ‘entirely agree’ with these concerns aired by Independent Chief Inspector David Bolt.
They branded the conditions at Napier Barracks and Penally Camp in Wales as ‘utterly unacceptable’.
Both sites have been used to accommodate hundreds of asylum seekers since last September, despite Public Health England warning the Home Office that it was unsuitable.
Key problems included the ineffective safeguarding or residents which may include children, vulnerable people and those with mental health issues along with filthy or ‘variable at best’ levels of cleanliness.
An accommodation area of Napier Barracks in Kent where the Home Office has been housing asylum seekers
People walk through Napier Barracks in Kent in April which is being used by the government to house those seeking asylum
A sleeping area at Napier Barracks in Kent where the Home Office has been housing asylum seekers
Other issues included cramped conditions that made social distancing difficult, a lack of information for residents about how long they would be kept at the sites or how their claims were progressing and the negative mental impacts that all of this has on them.
Seven people were thought to have self-harmed there and a further seven had ‘threatened suicide’. One ‘actively suicidal resident’ had remained on the site for more than a month.
And some asylum seekers believed to be children were kept at the barracks for long periods of time before being placed with social services. In one instance, this was for more than two months.
The MPs said they were ‘extremely concerned’ that Napier Barracks is still being used and have been calling for it to be shut down, stating that people who may be sent to the site for at least 60 to 90 days are at ‘very serious risk of harm’.
Penally Camp’s closure was announced in March. Ms Patel and immigration minister Chris Philp have both previously defended the use of such sites, despite the Home Office facing repeated criticism over the decision.
In January there was a riot at Napier which is said to have broken out after migrants were told they would no longer be transferred to hotels following a Covid outbreak.