UK Turns to Military as Lockdowns Spur Surge in Illegal Migrant Crossings


Britain’s military said Saturday it has been asked by the government to help prevent people from reaching the U.K. from France in small boats, after a surge in the number of vessels making the journey.

The Ministry of Defense said it had received a request from the Home Office to “support U.K. Border Force operations in the Dover Straits.” The department said it was “working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist.”

On Thursday, 235 people landed or were brought ashore from boats in the English Channel, a record number for a single day.

Britain’s Coastguard said it was responding to “a number of incidents” in the Channel on Saturday.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said the Royal Navy could be called in to prevent boats reaching U.K. waters, though other senior officials and politicians say that could be impractical and potentially dangerous.

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Jack Straw, who served as Home Secretary during a previous Labour government, told the BBC that cooperation with France was the only way to reduce the number of people making the risky journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The French and British immigration ministers are due to hold talks next week.

Roger Gough, head of the county council in Kent, where the majority of migrants arrive, said “historically the best experience we’ve seen of reducing the inflows is when there’s been a successful agreement, level of shared interest, between the British and French authorities.”

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Migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to reach Britain, either in trucks through the Channel tunnel or on ferries.

Some have turned to small boats organized by smugglers because lockdowns have reduced opportunities to stow away on ferries and trucks.

Fine summer weather is also prompting more people to make the risky sea crossing — about 20 miles at its narrowest point — in dinghies and kayaks.

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