Published: 17:30, 30 July 2021
| Updated: 20:22, 30 July 2021
The government is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on aerial surveillance to curb the number of would-be asylum seekers from landing on Kent’s shores, it has emerged.
More than £1m has been spent in just five months on surveillance from the sky, according to spending data published under government transparency rules.
The costs associated with spying from the sky between January and May this year alone amounted to £1,191,701.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are committed to delivering the best value for money for the British taxpayer. We ensure all spending is carefully scrutinised to make sure that every pound of taxpayers’ money is spent in the most effective way. We make no apology for making sure the Border Force has the resource it needs to protect our shores.”
The payments cover the costs incurred by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) for a light twin aircraft to carry out surveillance of all the UK waters, not just the Channel.
Meanwhile, the efforts to curb the number of asylum seekers crossing the English channel from northern France has suffered a setback after the French authorities were told they cannot deploy drones to search for asylum seekers because of privacy rules.
According to a ruling by France's National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL), the government might have breached privacy by using drones.
Record numbers have crossed the Channel in small flimsy dinghies in recent weeks, with some boats clearly overloaded.
The upward trend continued at the weekend, with 378 people crossing the Channel on 12 boats on Sunday alone while the French are understood to have stopped 178 people in five interceptions.
At least 430 crossed in a single day last week - a new record.
The total this year has already overtaken last year’s.
Many are picked up before they reach the shore and are escorted from their boats to undergo checks and questioning by Border Force officials.
Home secretary Priti Patel has vowed to make crossing the Channel ‘unviable’ and recently announced that the government was to give a further £54m to France to halt the numbers trying to reach the UK.
In addition, a controversial Bill has set out tougher penalties for people smugglers to deter their activities as well as heavy fines for those that help asylum seekers - even if they do so for no financial gain.
Watch our political editor Paul Francis talk about the issue on his programme Paul On Politics