UK Armed Forces Are Asked to Help Deal With Migrant Boats Crossing Channel

August 8, 2020 Updated: August 9, 2020

LONDON—Britain’s armed forces have been asked to help deal with boats carrying migrants across the Channel from France, the Defence Ministry said on Saturday after a spate of arrivals on the southern English coast.

Taking advantage of a spell of hot weather and calm sea conditions, hundreds of people including children and pregnant women have made the dangerous 33 kilometre (21 miles) crossing in recent days, many in overloaded rubber dinghies and other small vessels.

The Defence Ministry said it had received a formal request from the Home Office, or interior ministry, to assist the UK Border Force with its operations in the Dover Straits.

“We are assessing the requirements … and are working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment.

More than 200 people arrived on the English coast on Thursday, followed by some 130 on Friday, and media reported more arrivals on Saturday as the hot weather persisted.

A junior Home Office minister in charge of immigration compliance, Chris Philp, called the rise in arrivals “shameful” and sought to put pressure on France ahead of a meeting with his French counterpart in Paris next week.

“The French need to stop these illegal migrants from getting in the water in the first place,” he said in an opinion column published in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, adding that Britain would seek to return to France those who made it across.

France’s interior ministry said surveillance teams on the northern coast were intercepting migrants daily and it had mobilised extra resources. It said five times as many migrant boats had been caught between January and July compared with the same period in 2019.

“This is a joint problem …which needs a joint operational response,” a spokesman said.

By Estelle Shirbon