Charles Hymas, The Telegraph, August 5, 2021
Channel migrants will keep coming, a French police chief warned on Thursday, as numbers for the year surged past 10,000 with a record 482 arriving on Thursday alone.
Chris Philp, the immigration minister, and Dan O’Mahoney , the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, visited France on Thursday for a summit meeting with their French counterparts to find out “what has gone wrong over the past few days”.
Since Britain gave France £54 million to stem the surge of Channel crossings last month, 2,000 more migrants have reached UK shores – a fifth of the year’s total to date. On Wednesday, the 482 arriving surpassed the previous daily record of 430, set in July.
“Chris and Dan have gone over there to ensure that the taxpayers’ money that Britain has given to the French is delivering results,” said a source. “They reiterated the message that this is something we need to get a grip of, and get a grip of it together.”
However, Mathilde Potel, the deputy police chief for Calais, warned that, with nearly 100 miles of coastline to patrol, a cat and mouse contest with the people-smugglers could only reduce rather than stop the flow of migrants.
“We adapt all the time and the migrants adapt to us,” she said. “The border is still porous. As long as there is a way through, there will be migrants coming to cross to England.”
Gendarmerie captain Laurent Martin de Morestel said: “We have 24/7 surveillance but sometimes there are multiple departure attempts every three or four kilometres. We will stop one, two, three, four – but if we are busy elsewhere, the fifth or sixth will make it and leave.”
The extra £54 million to France, for a doubling in police officers to 200 and extra surveillance, was given last month as migrant crossings for 2021 passed the 8,417 in the whole of last year.
Mr Philp said the surge since then was “simply unacceptable”, adding: “I’m in France today to meet with French law enforcement and make sure the new funding we have provided delivers results for the British public.
“Seeing the vastness of coastline now being exploited by organised gangs shows the scale of the problem facing the French. We must step up to the challenge, and working together offers the best chance of putting an end to this criminal trade and protect lives.”
There is growing frustration among ministers at the French refusal to turn back migrants at sea and return them to France. France claims maritime law dictates that there can only be intervention if the migrants ask to be rescued, which is why it says it can only escort them to British waters.
“Our objective is to stop them before they head out. Once they are at sea it’s basically too late,” said gendarmerie captain Ludovic Caulier.
But a source said: “Dan O’Mahoney and Priti Patel [the Home Secretary] have been pretty clear with the interpretation of maritime law [that the migrants can be stopped and turned back at sea].
“We don’t see it the same way as the French. We need to come to some sort of agreement if we are going to make a real impact in stopping people making this dangerous crossing.”
Ms Patel returned on Thursday from a fact-finding mission to Greece to see how their tactics are preventing illegal migrants’ boats crossing the Aegean from Turkey by blocking and turning them back at sea.
A deal between Greece and Turkey, backed by EU funds, means the Turks will take back migrants turned back at sea. Ms Patel also investigated a new purpose-built asylum processing centre on a Greek island. Such centres are proposed as part of her new Nationality and Borders Bill.
It came as it emerged that Border Force officers’ union, who say they have been overwhelmed by the surge in migrant numbers, have lodged a formal complaint with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for alleged breaches of their working time conditions.
The Home Office also faces legal action over its policies for housing migrants amid allegations that children as young as eight are being unlawfully held for up to 10 days in Kent intake centre in Dover.
Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, said: “The intake unit is very small and the conditions are incredibly cramped. Last week there were more than 50 women and children being held in a unit that was not fit for housing that many people.”
The charity will this week seek a judicial review against the Home Office on the basis that holding children in this way breaches the 2014 Immigration Act which makes it illegal to detain children for more than 24 hours.
The Home Office said it took the safety and wellbeing of staff seriously and was working to resolve any problems. It denied Detention Action’s claims, saying children’s welfare was being taken seriously.