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Unprecedented peak in attempted English Channel crossings

France and the United Kingdom have expanded their border control operations following a sudden rise in the number of irregular migrants attempting to cross the English Channel by boat at the end of 2018.

In response to this unprecedented increase,  the UK has invested in new surveillance equipment along the French coast and has begun returning migrants to France to prevent future Channel crossings. French security forces are renewing their efforts to catch smugglers and stop migrants from making the dangerous journey across the Channel. Franck Toulliou from the French Air and Border Police said that France had taken down 26 smuggling networks in 2018 along the northern coast, according to the Associated Press.

The English Channel is a particularly busy and treacherous waterway, and the rubber boats used by smugglers are often unfit for the journey. Damien Careme, the mayor of Grande-Synthe, a town in northern France, was quoted by Reuters saying, “I don’t want the Channel to become a second tomb like the Mediterranean.”

The French authorities said a total of 71 attempted small boat crossings were recorded in 2018, almost six times as many as the whole of  2017. Fifty-seven of the attempted crossings in 2018 took place in November and December, as reported by the Associated Press.

Previously, most migrants tried to reach the UK by hiding in lorries. However, the UK and France have strengthened their security checks to curb this practice. The authorities now scan vehicles with cutting-edge  detection technology. In 2018, around 3,000 migrants were found in lorries in northern France.

The majority of  irregular migrants who tried to travel to the UK by boat last year claim to be Iranian, according to France’s interior ministry. Miodrag Ćakić, chief executive of Refugee Aid Serbia, told the BBC that these migrants may be among the thousands that flew into Serbia last year during the short period in which the Balkan country offered visa-free access to Iranians.

It is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 Iranians have emigrated each year since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. According to official Home Office figures, in the past two years the UK has received more asylum applications from Iranians than any other nationality.

TMP – 06/02/2019

Photo credit:   Susan Pilcher / Shutterstock

Photo caption: Greatstone, Kent, Great Britain – 31st December 2018. Border Force and police investigate small-boat crossing on the beach