Home   Dover   News   Article

Dover: Number of asylum seekers arriving in Kent in small boats after crossing Channel reaches record high


More news, no ads

LEARN MORE

The national spotlight has been fixed firmly on Kent as record numbers of people seeking asylum arrive in the county after making the perilous Channel-crossing in small boats.

KentOnline reporter Sam Lennon has been at the dockside to witness some of the latest coming ashore.

A Border Force cutter returns to Dover with asylim seekers today (Wednesday). Picture: Sam Lennon (49447904)
A Border Force cutter returns to Dover with asylim seekers today (Wednesday). Picture: Sam Lennon (49447904)

You can hear the droning sound of a Border Force cutter from behind a harbour wall – and that's the first signal that another group of asylum seekers has been sailed in.

The cutter appears in full view and those rescued, all in orange life jackets, are crowded together both on the vessel's rear and front decks.

The group is disembarked and walked up a white gangway to a small brown building. They are initially assessed and Covid checked before being taken out of Dover in coaches waiting in a nearby car park.

I saw two cutters bring in asylum seekers today, at about 10.30am and 11.15am. Two small children could be seen being carried up the gangway on the second group's arrival.

As I observed the scene at Dover Marina this morning a woman visiting from Hampshire watched and filmed the scene with total bewilderment.

An empty dinghy is towed into Dover Marina following a large group of people being brought ashore by Border Force yesterday. Pictures Sam Lennon KM Group
An empty dinghy is towed into Dover Marina following a large group of people being brought ashore by Border Force yesterday. Pictures Sam Lennon KM Group

She told me: "I have seen this on television before but it it is incredible to see it in front of me."

What must be a surreal sight for anyone not from Kent, for Dovorians it's just another day at the Western Docks.

Asylum seekers are brought into Britain in this manner daily after being rescued at sea. Others make it directly to British soil, landing on beaches such as at Dungeness and Kingsdown near Deal.

On Monday a total of 430 people reached Kent and other places along the coast and at least 287 did the same yesterday. Data from the PA news agency says that adds up to 8,452 so far this year.

I watched the arrivals at Dover Western Docks over two days of blistering hot weather.

A Border Force search and rescue boat yesterday bringing a small group of people ashore. Picture Sam Lennon KM GROUP
A Border Force search and rescue boat yesterday bringing a small group of people ashore. Picture Sam Lennon KM GROUP

Yesterday afternoon I saw one Border Force cutter sailing in a group and three Border Force RHIBs bringing in smaller bands.

That day members of the national press, for both newspapers and TV, stood at the dockside with me and filmed and photographed the arrivals.

A Sun photographer in a BMW then took off to Dungeness where there had been other landings that day.

Opinion on this issue in Britain is divided.

Many are sympathetic towards the plight of these people, saying they are escaping war and persecution in their own countries and deserve nothing but support and compassion.

Reporter Sam Lennon.: has been following the asylum story over 25 years
Reporter Sam Lennon.: has been following the asylum story over 25 years

But others are cynical and disparaging towards them. There are plenty of unfavourable comments on social media including accusations that the British authorities are too soft.

A lorry driver, seeing I was a journalist today, stopped to tell me: "Have you heard our government is going to pay the French £54 million to help solve this?

"It's a joke. This never happened when Margaret Thatcher was alive."

Indeed Dover has been the scene of many demonstrations against the arrival of asylum seekers, the last one in May.

Many people do not accept them as genuine because they have crossed safe countries in Europe to get here.

The demonstration against illegal immigration in Dover last September Picture: Kevin Clark
The demonstration against illegal immigration in Dover last September Picture: Kevin Clark

In the previous demonstration in Dover, in September, the hostility was raw, with chants leaving anyone in earshot in no doubt about where they thought those arriving by small boats should go.

The present government has noted the belief among a whole section of British people that a number of these people are merely economic migrants.

Home Secretary Priti Patel appears to be taking a hard stance against what the government now describes as "asylum shopping".

The Nationality and Borders Bill had its second reading in Parliament this week. Aims of the new legislation include giving Border Force officers powers to turn asylum seekers away from the UK while at sea, and making it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission.

It is difficult to know how far this will solve a massive, complex social problem where today the only winners are the gangsters behind people trafficking.

Asylum seekers walked up the gangway at Dover Western Docks in May. Picture courtesy of Chris Johnson
Asylum seekers walked up the gangway at Dover Western Docks in May. Picture courtesy of Chris Johnson

As a journalist, I have observed and written about this problem over the last 25 years.

An early flashpoint was the closure of a Red Cross Centre in Sangatte near Calais in 2002, which had become a magnet for refugees.

In the last couple of decades Calais had been the site of the notorious Jungle camps and even when French police charged in and tore them down the asylum seekers simply pitched up smaller camps – and never went away.

The original Jungle, close to the port, was flattened in 2009, only for an even larger version a short distance away to grow a few years later.

There is little surprise that asylum seekers, even in an officially safe country such as France, are still desperate to reach England.

"No asylum seeker would want to stay in Calais, having to fester in squalid camps."

Some reasons are simple and practical: many of them speak English rather than French and already have friends and relatives here.

But no asylum seekers would want to stay in Calais, having to fester in squalid camps and shanty towns instead of proper accommodation offered in Britain.

I visited the second Jungle in September 2016 and found the conditions appalling. It was like a scene from a poor country centuries ago, not what you'd expect from a modern, civilised and sophisticated nation like France.

The inhabitants, already on their guard against the rough treatment of the CRS riot police, were suspicious of any strangers to their makeshift community.

I was never assaulted there but one man snatched my camera and deleted all the photographs and video I had taken.

Food queue at The Jungle, Calais, September 2016. Picture: Sam Lennon
Food queue at The Jungle, Calais, September 2016. Picture: Sam Lennon

As I tried again by filming a queue for food another refugee pulled at my equipment and twisted it upside down.

The resulting video made it look as if I as the cameraman had been lifted and hung upside down as I desperately kept filming.

The method of reaching Britain be small boats is a relatively new one, becoming more obvious and frequent from 2018.

Previously, the most common way was by hiding in the backs of lorries on board ferries to Dover or using the Channel Tunnel.

The most tragic consequence of this was when 58 Chinese asylum seekers were found dead in the back of a lorry in Dover in June 2000.

It is no less dangerous to cross the Channel, the busiest shipping lane in the world, crammed on board a flimsy dinghy.

It takes steely courage and determination to take on such a journey.

Tragedies have been inevitable, including last October when a family of five, including three small children, perished when their small craft capsized.

How many more such deaths would have happened had the Border Force, as well as French authorities, not reached asylum seekers in time at sea?

The disparaging have labelled the Border Force as a taxi service for illegal immigrants.

Change that label to mass life savers.

Read more: All the latest news from Dover

.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More