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Charity says migrant crossings spike in Folkestone and Dover due to tighter border security in Kent

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Tighter border security could be behind a recent spike in migrant crossings via the English Channel, it has been claimed.

A migrant charity director based in Dover has said desperate people could be looking for other ways to reach the UK as traditional routes - such as in the back of the lorry - are now harder to pull off with tighter controls.

Tanya Long from the charity Samphire, said: “It's a sad situation that these people are risking their lives by taking such a dangerous route across the Channel in order to reach a place of sanctuary.

Library image of Dover's White Cliffs.
Library image of Dover's White Cliffs.

"These people must be very desperate to take the decision to cross one of the busiest and dangerous waterways in the world.”

In the last two weeks, a total of 80 suspected migrants have been found crossing into the UK illegally off the Kent coast, with the latest incidents taken place this morning.

Border Force deployed a coastal patrol vessel at around 1.30am this morning where teams intercepted a dinghy off the Kent coast with seven people on board.

The dinghy and those on board were escorted into Dover where they were met by Border Force officers and Port of Dover police.

The group consisted of six men and one woman, who presented themselves as Iranian. They have been transferred to immigration officials for interview.

The spokesman added that Border Force have also been also dealing with a second incident involving a further seven people at Dover this morning, with more details as we get it.

A Border Force officer
A Border Force officer

It's also thought that the changing weather could be a motivation for more migrants coming over, according to other charity workers in the county.

Bridget Chapman from Kent Refugee Action Network said: "We're not sure what is causing these numbers to come across the Channel in such a short space of time.

"I don't know if it's because of the Brexit negotiations, or the fact that winter is coming and people feel that they have to do it now.

"Those are two possible reasons."

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has raised concerns about the criminality involved in such ventures across the water. A spokesman said: "The use of small maritime vessels by organised crime groups to facilitate illegal immigration is a threat that the NCA and our law enforcement partners, both in the UK and France, are well aware of and determined to disrupt.

"While the threat is not new, we have seen a number of attempts to reach the UK in this way in recent weeks.

“We have been clear before that this is in the main fuelled by organised criminality. Gathering intelligence and the evidence required to prosecute these networks can take time, but this is a priority for both us and our partners and we have successfully disrupted the crime groups doing this in the past.

“Crossing the Channel in this way is obviously highly dangerous. It demonstrates the lack of regard for human life that these criminal networks have, but also their willingness to exploit the desperation of others.

“But while these attempts are high profile and high risk, the numerical threat posed by organised criminals trying to smuggle people into the UK remains largest at south coast ports rather than through the use of small maritime vessels.”

UK Border Force
UK Border Force

Today's crossings are the eighth and ninth known incidents of their kind in two weeks off the shores of east Kent.

Overnight on Thursday, November 8 and Friday 9, seven migrants were found in a small dinghy near Dover.

They said they were Iranian.

HM Coastguard and the RNLI intercepted the boat, a Border Force vessel arrived and the group were taken for interview by immigration officials.

On Tuesday morning last week, 14 men with three children tried to land a fishing boat at Dover Harbour before being stopped.

Border Force officials, helped by the port authority and coastguards, boarded the vessel.

They said they were all Iranian.

The adults were dealt with by the Home Office and the children were referred to social services.

That same day, at about 2.50pm, seven men were found hiding in a lorry that arrived in Dover from Calais. They were found by Port of Dover Police after a search of the vehicle.

Three said they were Iranian, four said they were Iraqi.

One Iranian was taken to hospital and the other six men were referred to immigration officials for interview.

On Wednesday last week, just before 5am, nine people were found in a dinghy near Dover.

A Border Force vessel, with the RNLI and HM Coastguard, intercepted it and escorted it to Dover Western Docks.

Later that morning, at about 9.15am, 10 men saying they were Iranian were escorted into Dover on their fishing boat.

The vessel was guided in by an RNLI vessel and met by Border Force officers.

Seven more people were then found on Samphire Hoe beach near Dover last Friday.

They were transferred to immigration officials for interview.

Folkestone Harbour, The Stade, Folkestone. Picture: Andy Jones
Folkestone Harbour, The Stade, Folkestone. Picture: Andy Jones

Nine suspected migrants then landed in Folkestone on Sunday, after it's believed the group called police to say they were in trouble at 7.30am and were spotted by a member of the public.

The group were found clambering up rocks after landing in a small boat. It's believed the group were spotted initially in Dover, but eventually landed in Folkestone.

The Home Office confirmed that people found on board presented themselves as Iranian nationals while officers were supported by HM Coastguard.

The individuals were taken to Dover and will be processed in line with immigration rules and a criminal investigation was launched.

The Home Office announced earlier this week that more coastal patrol vessels would be deployed in Kent. The spokeswoman added: "We are alert to the risk posed by people attempting to reach the UK illegally via small boats.

"This year we have increased the number of coastal patrol vessel and, in light of recent events, have stepped up deployments along the south east coast.

"We continue to work closely with law enforcement partners in the UK and overseas to tackle people smuggling at source.

"Nobody should put their life at risk attempting to smuggle themselves into the UK across the Channel.

"Thankfully, this route to the UK remains relatively rare."

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