17:51 GMT21 June 2021
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    In November 2020, France and the UK signed an agreement aimed at containing the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

    The UK Home Office has launched an "urgent" investigation into how a group of migrants trying to cross the English Channel were secretly picked up by the British Border Force in French waters and then taken to the town of Dover in Kent, the Daily Mail reports.

    The probe was ordered by Home Secretary Priti Patel who pointed out that the incident "should not have happened".

    The Daily Mail cited an unnamed Home Office source as saying that the UK government's own border agency appeared to have helped refugees enter Britain illegally.

    UK Border Force officials travel in a RIB with migrants picked up at sea whilst Crossing the English Channel, as they arrive at the Marina in Dover, southeast England on August 15, 2020
    © AFP 2021 / BEN STANSALL
    UK Border Force officials travel in a RIB with migrants picked up at sea whilst Crossing the English Channel, as they arrive at the Marina in Dover, southeast England on August 15, 2020
    "The job of [the] Border Force is to secure the UK's border, not facilitate illegal entry across it", the source underscored.

    According to the newspaper, the incident occurred last Saturday, when "the controversial action on the French side of the Channel was orchestrated between senior crew members of [the] HMC Valiant and French patrol ship Athos".

    The Daily Mail reported that it had obtained a recording of a maritime radio conversation, during which officers from the Valiant and Athos allegedly discussed the "legality" of such an operation.

    "The difficulty we have is the vessel [of migrants] is in your waters, and we cannot come into your waters to take the vessel. Would you have a problem if we put our boarding boat into the water near the vessel" to "just escort it towards UK waters?", a British officer was heard saying.

    Shortly thereafter, the officer from the Athos apparently responds by saying, "we give you legality to do this, no problem".

    A Border Force boat returns to Dover, Kent, England
    © AP Photo / Gareth Fuller
    A Border Force boat returns to Dover, Kent, England

    The Daily Mail also quoted an unnamed south coast sailor who gave the radio message to the newspaper as saying it's common knowledge "the French are escorting migrant boats towards the UK instead of turning them back to France".

    However, "this is a first time I have heard of [the] British Border Force collecting migrants on the French side of the Channel", the sailor added.

    "The French patrol boat captain makes clear the migrants are not in peril at sea. They were travelling slowly towards the UK where they would have been collected by UK Border Force vessels in English waters. I worry that Valiant may have gone into French waters in a hurry to save time on a day when more than 100 migrants were heading from France to Dover. I am sure [the] Border Force were overwhelmed", the source argued.

    Katie Hopkins, a UKIP member, UK-based journalist and political commentator, believes that this is "absolutely" something that's been going on for a long time, "it's just that this is the first time it's been reported or the first time that they've been caught in the act".

    "But from my firsthand experience in a number of countries, including Italy, including the southern border of America, this is exactly as it works. It is a systematic and coordinated movement of people. It is the trafficking of human flesh. And it doesn't surprise me at all that the Border Force is facilitating that... And I've seen it before with Border Force working in Italy with the NGOs that bring migrants across the Med. So this is kind of standard practice", Hopkins says.

    Hopkins suggests that somebody inside of the Border Force and other places "will be making money from turning a blind eye".

    "...you always follow the money. So, the trafficking of human flesh has always been one of the most profitable industries that there are. Wherever humans are crossing into a country, there is money".

    France, UK Seeking to Curb Migration Flow

    The Home Office probe into the incident comes amid Secretary Priti Patel's repeated calls for France to do more to tackle the migration crisis, which has seen record numbers of asylum seekers enter the UK.

    In late November 2020, Patel and her French counterpart Gerald Darmanin concluded a deal in a bid to stem the increasing numbers of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats.

    "This new package today that I have just signed with the French interior minister, effectively doubles the number of police on the French beaches, it invests in more technologies and surveillance – more radar technology that support the law enforcement effort – and on top of that we are now sharing in terms of toughening up our border security", the home office secretary said at the time.

    "I think what we're seeing from Priti Patel is that talk is cheap. And unless they're going to move in the military and stop this, we are going to be inundated. And bear in mind, this is at a time when British people, taxpayers are not allowed to go on holiday and are being increasingly locked down, are being told that their freedom day, the 21st of June, will move... Meanwhile, illegals come in, are assisted in and are given hotels and accommodation and food and legal. That's what my email is full of, people asking why is it that illegals can do what they want, but we're stuck?" Hopkins says.

    According to the English political commentator, the only way to stem the flow of migrants, whom she describes as "trafficked humans", is to stop them from touching British soil.

    "They need to be picked up in the Channel and they need to be returned to France or wherever route they came from. They should not be allowed to set one foot on British soil because that's where the problem begins. Because, as you will know, any kind of asylum or immigration laws dictate that whatever is your first safe country is the country you stay in. And the last time I looked, France wasn't at war, nor is it Syria".

    In the meantime, Peter Williams, a senior lecturer with the Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing Studies at Liverpool John Moores University, thinks there should be "a closer involvement, particularly with the French" to curb the influx. Williams suggests a British-French cooperation at an operational level, i.e. joint patrols.

    "It also indicates to me there needs to be an involvement from, say, the National Crime Agency, from intelligence. They need to invest more resources in the Border Force so we can predict when these crossings are likely to take place, but more importantly, where possible, working with police forces in Europe, where we can actually address the core of the problem in relation to human trafficking and the traffickers and the recruitment of these poor people".

    Last year, 8,500 illegal immigrants arrived in Britain having crossed the English Channel in small boats from France or Belgium. Since the start of 2021, about 4,300 asylum seekers have entered the UK, including 1,058 who've reached the country over the past seven days.


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