1. ITV Report

Home Secretary Sajid Javid cuts short Christmas break to deal with migrant crossings

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

Home Secretary Sajid Javid is cutting short his Christmas break to deal with a rising number of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel by boat.

The ongoing issue has been declared a "major incident" by Mr Javid as authorities try to regain control over the situation.

Two boats carrying 12 men from Syria and Iran were brought to shore on Friday, just days after 40 migrants attempted the crossing on Christmas Day.

Some MPs have called for the Royal Navy to be sent in or for Border Force cutters to be brought back from the Mediterranean to target traffickers' boats.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes revealed Mr Javid's plan to take personal control of the situation as she visited Dover to speak with Border Force officials on Saturday.

Mr Javid has been briefed on the latest intelligence in a conference call with officials in the Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the National Crime Agency (NCA), and has also asked for an urgent call with his French counterpart.

In a statement, the home secretary said "there were no easy answers this complex problem".

He said: "We have been working closely with our domestic partners and the French for some time to address this issue.

"After a rise in activity over Christmas, I immediately stepped this up - declaring a major incident and returning to the UK to drive our continued and enhanced response."

A union representing Border Force staff said it was "very difficult to know" how much the French authorities are doing to prevent people-smuggling from the camps housing migrants in Calais.

Ms Nokes said the operation between UK and French authorities had been "very effective".

She said: "The French have made arrests, they are working really hard on the organised crime front, they have certainly acted as a deterrent in the theft of fishing vessels."

Ms Nokes said that having more patrol boats in the Channel could act as a magnet "encouraging people to make a perilous crossing" as they know they will be picked up and brought to shore.

She said each incident was judged individually and that the UK is "working with the French to find the most effective route for returns for those it is appropriate for".

"It's perfectly feasible that some people may be returned to country of origin depending on where they've come from," she said.

Sajid Javid has cut short a holiday to deal with the crisis. Credit: PA

Ingrid Parrot, spokeswoman for the French Maritime Prefecture for the English Channel, said the number of illicit crossings in small boats had increased from 23 in 2016 and 13 in 2017 to 70 this year, the majority of them after the end of October.

Ms Parrot told the BBC's Today programme: "Before 2018, we didn't have smugglers. But now we have smugglers on the French coast and it is really a network.

"Before that it was not a network, it was individual migrants who were trying to cross. Now it's a network, a criminal organisation."

Ms Parrot said smugglers are using the prospect of Brexit as a way to try to encourage migrants to attempt the perilous crossing before the impending change in UK relations with the EU. Crossings had been "easier" since the end of October because of the mild weather, she said.

She said French authorities exchange "a lot of information" with UK counterparts about smuggling operations, adding: "When migrants call us, we call MRCC (Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre) at Dover and Border Force to co-operate at sea to help these people, because we really fear finding bodies on the beach."