Europe’s refugee crisis

UK navy vessel sent to ‘help prevent’ migrants crossing English Channel

  • Defence minister said HMS Mersey will patrol the Dover Strait to help Britain’s Border Force and French authorities respond to migrant crossings
PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 9:32pm

A British Royal Navy vessel was deployed on Thursday to “help prevent” people illegally crossing the English Channel from France, Britain’s government said.

“I can confirm that HMS Mersey will deploy to the Dover Strait to assist the UK Border Force and French authorities with their response to migrant crossings,” Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a statement.

Williamson said the crew diverted “from routine operations to help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey across the channel”.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect the UK border and human life,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid said on Twitter in response to the announcement.

The HMS Mersey deployment is the latest escalated response to a recent spike in migrants illegally crossing the channel, which Javid characterised as a “major incident”.

Late on Wednesday, a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester “on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK”, the National Crime Agency said in a statement.

Six migrant boats carrying people from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan rescued in English Channel on Christmas Day

The home secretary, who earlier in the week announced the redeployment of two Border Force cutters from the Mediterranean, has been facing criticism for questioning if those attempting to illegally cross the channel are “genuine” refugees.

Speaking on a visit to the port city of Dover, he asked: “If you are a genuine asylum seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country you arrived in?”

The home secretary also suggested those intercepted by British authorities might have asylum requests denied to deter others.

“If you somehow do make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure you are ultimately not successful because we need to break the link,” he said.

The government said 539 migrants tried to travel to Britain on small boats in 2018, 80 per cent of them in the last three months of the year.

Many of the recent migrants said they travelled from Iran, which Chris Hogben, head of Britain’s organised immigration crime task force, said was “really significant”.

Hogben told the Financial Times that illegal immigration from Iran was complicated by Britain’s policy of not returning people to the country because of its human rights record.

“They don’t have to be smuggled covertly into the UK,” he said of the Iranian migrants. “All they need to do is get into British waters and call for British law enforcement’s help … because we’re not going to send them back.”