Why are hundreds of illegal migrants being ushered into Britain every week – while only a trickle of Ukrainian refugees have made it here legitimately, asks SUE REID
The English Channel was as still as a mill pond this week when the traffickers pulled off their most audacious act yet.
At first light on Thursday morning, they sent over the largest mega-boat of migrants ever to cross the 21-mile strip of sea between France and England.
The black rubber vessel stretched nearly 40 feet. Highly controversially, it was illegally escorted by a French Navy warship to the Kent coast before being handed, with its cargo of 50 passengers, to Seeker – a UK Border Force vessel.
Dozens of strangers from a myriad of nations carefully boarded Seeker, which then roared into Dover harbour at 10am to be greeted by blue-uniformed officers of Her Majesty’s Coastguard.
In a surreal scene, the officers helped each migrant climb on to the quayside as though they were VIP guests. All that was missing from the welcome in the spring sunshine was a red carpet.
Migrants crossing the English Channel have been arriving on inflatable boats which are 40-ft long and can squeeze in more than 50 people
At least 4,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel from France so far this year
Minutes later, the empty mega-boat was towed by Border Force into the port.
Out at sea, officials had painted the number 126 in white paint on its side to make it clear that it was the 126th traffickers’ boat to travel across the Channel this year. These criminals are having a bumper year.
And given the Home Office’s sluggishness in granting visas to refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine – only a handful have so far made the journey here – the surge of Channel migrants represents a huge embarrassment for the British Government.
At least 4,000 migrants have crossed from France since New Year alone – three times the number during the same time period last year.
More than 800 came in this week, including those on the mega-boat who cheered and waved as they reached Dover. Others gave Churchillian ‘victory’ salutes. All looked delighted to be here.
Meanwhile, thousands more migrants are waiting to make the same journey. Others – possibly up to a million – are crossing Europe with the same plan in mind: to reach northern France where they will pay £5,000 or more for a ride on a trafficker’s boat to England.
Not before time, Tom Pursglove, the minister appointed to tackle illegal migration, said this week that the ‘British public have had enough’.
More than 800 came in this week, including those on the mega-boat who cheered and waved as they reached Dover. Others gave Churchillian ‘victory’ salutes. All looked delighted to be here
At least 40,000 migrants – including Afghan refugees given sanctuary here after the Taliban takeover – are currently living in 100 hotels around Britain, costing taxpayers £1.7billion per year.
Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, the chaos caused by Covid, the cost-of-living crisis, soaring inflation and the ‘Partygate’ political scandal have all meant the Government has been able to avoid difficult questions about our gaping borders.
Yet opinion polls show immigration is a number one priority for those who backed Brexit and Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.
This vast cohort includes many of the ‘Red Wall’ voters in Labour’s former heartlands, whom the Tories must retain if they hope to win the next general election.
Crucially, it is in many Red Wall seats in the Midlands and the north of England where most of the migrants’ hotels requisitioned by the Home Office are based.
Some of the refugees manage to make it across the channel before they are intercepted by authorities
‘Migration is right in our face,’ a retired businessman from Stoke-on-Trent wrote in an email to me this week.
‘We wake up in the morning and find the local hotel where we used to meet up for a drink in the evening is suddenly out of use for us. It is full of foreign young men, smoking outside, with their eyes pinned to mobile phones and chatting loudly in Arabic.’ Not that the migrants like the hotels, either. They have been lured to the UK by traffickers who promise they will get a brand-new start with a house, education and free health care on arrival.
‘Britain is a disappointment,’ a Cameroonian in his 20s called Abebe told me outside the Crowne Plaza hotel near Heathrow.
Abebe, who came here on a boat three years ago, added: ‘I have nothing to do all day and soon I am being sent by your Home Office to a place called Stockport in the north of England where I will live in another hotel. I can never fit in. I wish I had never come to the UK.’
What a mess. The new Nationalities and Borders Bill, pioneered by Home Secretary Priti Patel to halt the migrant crisis, is making its way through Parliament. It will, claims Miss Patel, crack down on the trafficking gangsters (giving them a life sentence) and also make it a criminal offence for foreigners to arrive in the UK without prior permission. Contentiously, MPs have approved the plans to vet and process the asylum claims of migrants offshore as the Government searches, rather hopelessly, for suitable overseas locations.
Yet opinion polls show immigration is a number one priority for those who backed Brexit and Boris Johnson as Prime Minister
Even Albania has refused. The hope is that the prospect of spending months, even years, in a camp miles from Britain will – one day – put off the ever-growing number of people coming here.
But what of the thousands who have already arrived?
In the picturesque seaside town of Hythe in Kent early one evening this week, people were walking their dogs on the promenade, buying ice creams for the children and sitting on benches overlooking the beach while enjoying fish and chips. It was an idyllic scene.
Yet at 6pm, a group of young men, some dressed in designer clothes, tumbled out of a small hotel overlooking the seafront.
The teenage migrants said they had arrived on a trafficker’s boat into Dover just five days ago.
‘We like it here,’ said Adil, who insisted he was 15 although he sported a thick beard. ‘We are happy because it took a long time to come to your country from Iraq. The food at the hotel is good for us Muslims.’
On the seafront, locals looked on wearily. ‘Why do they want to come here?’ demanded a 74-year-old man as he ate a bag of chips.
Beside him, his son, a bookmaker in his 30s, said: ‘The politicians in London don’t understand what is happening. They are out of touch with ordinary people. Every day more arrive, although there isn’t enough housing for our young.
‘What do they want of this country which has a different culture to their own? Why are they all young men?’
The never-ending stream of traffickers’ boats is not the only problem. Other craft are slipping in carrying migrants, too.
Just ten days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, a blue sailing yacht named Moon crossed the Channel from Belgium, entering the mouth of the River Rother in Rye, East Sussex, on a Saturday afternoon.
There, the skipper grounded the vessel near the shore in broad daylight so that he, and 20 migrants on board, could wade or swim to land. Some 19 of them were picked up by Border Force officers after they scoured Rye Harbour and the nearby countryside.
‘The yacht had been hiding in the Belgian waterways for weeks, waiting for a chance to cross the Channel,’ a Border Force official who helped search for the Moon’s migrants explained.
‘The yacht’s automatic identification system, which would have meant it was spotted coming over by the British coastguard, was turned off.’
The rubber boats are bought on the internet from factories churning them out in China and Turkey
And they added: ‘This vessel had been repainted from its original black. “Moon” was a false name inscribed on the side. It was sent over by Iraqi Kurd traffickers operating in Belgium.’
The official claimed it was ‘brought there three months before’, adding: ‘We believe the skipper was Ukrainian along with the two who escaped with him.
‘They will have been aware Putin was planning an invasion, upped sticks to Belgium to pay traffickers for the use of the boat to make an illegal sailing to the UK’.
The vessel was flying a Ukrainian flag. For the truth is that traffickers have been embedded on the north French coast for 20 years. At first they hid migrants inside lorries on Channel ferries (and still do so in their hundreds each month).
In 2016, as the Syrian war unsettled the Middle East and provoked a migration wave of 1.5million people into western Europe, they turned to offering rides on rubber boats as well.
Many of the traffickers are Iraqi Kurds with links to Britain, often having been given refuge as migrants themselves in years gone by. They are making millions a week from the boat journeys, paid in money transfers on mobile phones by their passengers. This dirty money has to be laundered.
That is often done through cash businesses such as kebab restaurants, takeaways and Turkish barber shops, on high streets up and down the land.
The rubber boats are bought on the internet from factories churning them out in China and Turkey.
They are delivered to warehouses in western Germany. There they are collected and driven at night to pre-arranged spots on French beaches, just before migrants are sent to the same location – guided by a location pin sent to them by traffickers on their mobile phone – to get on board.
An Iranian migrant, now living in Germany, explained to me earlier this year: ‘I used to be in Calais and hoped to get a boat to Britain before I had second thoughts because of the risk of drowning. I watched the traffickers operating the crossings on the beaches.
‘One night, a white van with German plates turned up in the access road. A blonde woman driving it called over to the smugglers: “I am here” in English but with a heavy, guttural accent. The traffickers ran to her van carrying torches in the darkness. They unloaded two boats, in cartons and still packaged, on to the beach.
‘Two engines came out, too. She drove off again in a matter of minutes. It was like a military operation.’ All this makes the mega-boat number 126 towed into Dover on Thursday of immense interest to the British.
It was forensically examined by Border Force after it arrived. An official climbed into the boat, took pictures of the motor, noted its serial number, the make and type, all clues that may reveal where it was bought from, when, and – most importantly – by whom.
Yet this is a cat-and-mouse game. The trafficking gangs are ruthlessly efficient with shadowy kingpins at the top who never show their faces. They have agents drumming up trade for the journeys thousands of miles away in Africa and the Middle East.
Entire villages club together to send their sons, even when still children, to northern France to get on to a boat to Britain, believing that they will get rich and send money back to them for the rest of their lives.
It is, of course, a huge lie.
Once the migrants, 90 per cent of whom are reportedly young men, reach Calais or Dunkirk, they are caught in a trap. After journeying for months or years, they can’t go back to where they came from.
They are at the end of the road. They can only catch a boat towards Britain.
The French don’t help. Again and again, their naval ships guide the rubber boats over to the English side of the Channel from France saying, disingenuously, this is to save the lives of migrants determined to enjoy a new life in Britain. As a gun-carrying French policeman on a night patrol of a Calais beach told me with a Gallic shrug last summer: ‘These people have been France’s problem. Now they will be yours.’
His prescient words will infuriate those who believed that by voting for Brexit and then for the Tories, our immigration problems would be over.
Watching the smiling welcome given by our own so-called ‘coastguards’ to the mega-boat’s migrants in Dover this week, the swathes of voters have every right to feel duped.
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