Record number of Channel migrants landing on Christmas Day

A record number of migrants including young children landed at Dover on Christmas Day after crossing the English Channel as people smugglers took advantage of the mild weather.

A total of 67 people believed to be from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan were picked up in the early hours of Christmas morning by the Border Force and Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The migrants, who included three small children, were intercepted after they were spotted in two dinghies in the English Channel after leaving northern France a few hours earlier. The first arrived at the Kent town at about 12.10am and the second shortly after 1am. Another boat was stopped from leaving French waters by French authorities.

The 67 migrants was the highest number to reach the UK on a Christmas Day.

A separate boat with about 35 people on board was brought to safety at Dover at around 11.40pm on Christmas Eve. A baby wearing a woolen hat resembling a penguin was seen being carried by a Border Force official to safety.

Mild weather and fewer patrols could have encouraged crime gangs 

The spate of crossings raises the prospect the organised criminal gangs stepped up their illegal operations because of the relatively mild weather and possibly in the hope that there would be fewer patrols because of the Festive Season.

In 2019, a total of 49 migrants were picked up by the English authorities, with a further 14 returned to France by French authorities. The previous year, 40 migrants successfully made the crossing.

In August this year, people smugglers sent over 1,000 migrants, the biggest crossing in a single day. Of those 800 made it to the UK, with 200 people of them stopped by the French authorities and returned to Northern France.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel on Christmas Day

Credit: Gareth Fuller

A group of migrants are brought into Dover Marina by RNLI

Credit: STEVE FINN

Tom Pursglove, Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Migration, said: “Seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel. They should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.

“This Government is reforming our approach to illegal entry to the UK and asylum by making the tough decisions to end the overt exploitation of our laws and UK taxpayers.

“The public have been crying out for reform for two decades and that’s what this Government is delivering through our New Plan for Immigration.

“The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country. It will also strengthen the powers of Border Force to stop and redirect vessels, while introducing new powers to remove asylum seekers to have their claims processed outside the UK.

“MPs have already voted to reform this broken and abusive system and the sooner the House of Lords approves the Borders Bill, the sooner these reforms can be delivered.”

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