400 migrant children taken into council’s care so far this year

Migrant Channel crossing incidents Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Dozens more migrants arrived on UK shores on Friday as one council revealed it had taken 400 unaccompanied migrant children into its care already this year.

Roger Gough, leader of Kent County Council, said the figures included 60 young migrants in the first week of August, with 23 arriving on Friday alone.

It came amid speculation Home Secretary Priti Patel had drafted in the Royal Navy to patrol the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

That suggestion was later branded a “completely potty idea” by a Ministry of Defence (MoD) source, who said such action would be “inappropriate and unnecessary” and that military resources should not be used to address “political failings”.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight programme, Mr Gough said “enormous pressure” was being placed on Kent County Council amid rising numbers of unaccompanied young migrants arriving in the UK.

“We’ve had so far some 400 of these young people come into our care this year so far and in recent weeks and months it has been particularly rapid,” he said.

“So 65 in May, 85 in June, 70 in July and so far about 60 in August, including the 23 that you mentioned today.

“So that puts enormous pressure on, for instance, our reception centres and ultimately on our social work capacity as well.”

On Thursday, at least 235 migrants made the dangerous journey in 17 boats, setting a new single day record.

Crossings continued on Friday as calm waters remained amid warm and sunny weather, with families including children who were too young to walk, and pregnant women spotted on board boats.

More than 130 migrants made it to the UK aboard 13 boats, the Home Office said on Friday evening.

The Times reported ministers were considering blocking migrant boats in the Channel before they enter British waters, modelled on Australian tactics used against migrants arriving by boats from neighbouring Indonesia.

Earlier on Friday, the Home Secretary’s spokesman confirmed considering Navy support was one of the potential options being considered, alongside discussions on bolstering Border Force resources in the Channel.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is waiting for advice from officials and taking stock of the situation before taking the matter further, his spokesman said.

The MoD has an ongoing arrangement to offer military aid to civil authorities under a process known as MACA, he said, but this previously had been in the form of technical support and advice rather than “putting big boats in the Channel”.

A Border Force officer escorts a young family thought to be migrants from a Border Force vessel in Dover, Kent Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

“The whole purpose of the MACA process is to determine what could be done and we would not want to pre-judge that”, he added.

Meanwhile, an MoD source told the PA news agency the idea of sending in the Navy was “completely potty” and had “more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese”.

They branded it “impractical and unnecessary” adding: “It is a completely inappropriate and disproportionate approach to take.

“We don’t resort to deploying armed force to deal with political failings.

“It’s beyond absurd to think that we should be deploying multi-million pound ships and elite soldiers to deal with desperate people barely staying afloat on rubber dinghies in the Channel.

“It could potentially put people’s lives at even greater risk.

“Border Force is effectively the Home Office’s own navy fleet, so it begs the question: What are they doing?”

Former Border Force chief Tony Smith told PA extra resources may not solve the problem as the Navy would “be in the same boat as Border Force in terms of policy. The only powers we have are search and rescue and that is what we have been doing”.

Almost 4,000 migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year, according to analysis by PA.

A record number of crossings took place on Thursday Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

This is thought to be more than double the total for the whole of 2019, when fewer than 2,000 people were believed to have arrived in the country.

The Home Secretary’s spokesman said the “fantastic weather” was behind the surge despite ongoing efforts to prevent them, while Immigration Minister Chris Philp said he shared “the anger and frustration of the public” at the “appalling number” of crossings.

Mr Philp will visit France next week to speak with counterparts following a “constructive” meeting with the country’s deputy ambassador earlier this week, the Home Secretary’s spokesman added.

Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said it was “particularly troubling to see children being put at risk”.

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott added that “we have to recognise that these are very desperate people” and called for a “crackdown on the people smugglers”.

But Tory Adam Holloway, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said migrants trying to enter the UK by crossing the Channel want to “smash the door down”.

“Let’s just be very candid about this. These are people from poorer countries who want a better life for themselves, I would probably do the same,” Mr Holloway told Newsnight.

“But they are people who have travelled through multiple safe countries; these are relatively wealthy people who have paid people smugglers thousands and thousands of dollars to get there.

He added: “If they are going to stop this, we have to stop people automatically believing that if you get to Britain, you will stay in Britain, otherwise it will go on and on.”

The Home Office refuses to provide details of how many children are arriving, only details on gender and nationality.

The committee has launched an inquiry into the rise in crossings.