Hundreds of migrants risked their lives in freezing temperatures to illegally cross the English Channel over the weekend.
People smugglers took advantage of the calm conditions to evacuate a mass of asylum seekers from France on Saturday night – as temperatures plunged to -5C in the south of England.
Groups, reportedly in eight boats, were landed early Sunday morning after being intercepted by British Border Force personnel as they attempted the treacherous 21-mile crossing of the Strait of Dover.
The people rescued included a small baby, children, women and men, with one witness claiming a total of around 250 migrants had crossed – while other reports suggested as many as 380 asylum seekers had arrived.
Pictured are dozens of migrants disembarking from a UK Border Force boat in Dover on Sunday after making the perilous 21-mile journey across the English Channel
It is believed that migrants set out from Gravelines, near Dunkirk, France. They were all taken to the port of Dover, Kent by Border Force ships over the weekend.
The Ministry of Defence, which is currently conducting overseas operations in the English Channel to coordinate migrant crossings, has yet to confirm Sunday’s figures but is expected to do so later today.
The French Coast Guard confirmed they also prevented a further 53 asylum seekers from reaching the UK on the same day.
The French rescue ship Abeille Normandie was tasked on Sunday with assisting a boat in trouble off the coast, recovering the 53 stranded migrants and dropping them off at the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Once docked in the French port, they were received by the departmental fire and rescue service, the maritime medical coordination and the border police.
Meanwhile, French naval vessels are believed to have shadowed the other dinghies as they headed for British territory, with the military having a policy of not intervening to intercept the inflatables once they enter the water.
The crossings are the second this week despite biting temperatures, with 106 people making the perilous journey on January 17. While 44 migrants illegally completed the dangerous crossing on January 2.
Among the men, women and children rescued by authorities was a small baby, believed to be one of those escorted to Dover on Sunday.
Last year was the largest on record after 45,728 people arrived in 1,104 boats. – dwarfing the 2021 total of 28,526.
In August, 8,641 people arrived in Britain by inflatable dinghy or other small craft – the most migrants to reach the UK in a single month.
And the busiest day came on August 22 when 1,295 migrants arrived in Britain in a 24-hour period.
But there are fears the crisis could worsen even further in 2023, with government officials predicting that as many as 80,000 people could attempt to cross the Channel this year – nearly double the record figure set in 2022.
Albanian gangs have already launched a TikTok advertising blitz offering stowaways to the UK, with criminals demanding up to £18,000 per person – boasting a ‘100 per cent success’ record.
Ahead of a supposed crackdown on small boat arrivals, the smugglers are demanding up to £18,000 per head as they boast a ‘100 per cent’ success rate
Unlike small boat arrivals, which are usually picked up by lifeboats and passed on to Border Force officials, truck migrants disappear upon arrival.
The latest crossings came on the same day it was revealed that ministers had spent £20.8 million deploying the Royal Navy to try and stem the crisis.
Naval vessels were first deployed to assist Border Force last April by ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said it would mean ‘no boat reaches the UK undetected’.
And a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Defense on Sunday revealed that taxpayers had gobbled up £87,097 daily, £535 per migrant, under Operation Isotrope, which will end on January 31 and the role will be returned to Border Force.
The revelation shocked Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, who told The Sun: “These huge costs once again underscore the importance of ending this crisis with small boats.”
Meanwhile, it emerged last week that three of Britain’s five Broder Force cutters are currently undergoing maintenance rather than patrolling the English Channel to protect the country’s coastline.
HMC Valiant, pictured, is undergoing a £2 million ship life extension programme
HMP Protector, pictured, has been moored in Lowestoft, Suffolk for at least six months. It has been established for so long that it has been mapped in Google Street View
HMC Protector, Valiant and Seeker are all tied up in Lowestoft, Suffolk where they are all undergoing repairs or recertification.
HMC Protector was purchased second-hand from the Finnish Navy in 2013. According to maritime tracking data, it had been moored for the past six months awaiting safety certification work that was to take 25 days.
HMC Seeker is also undergoing work expected to cost up to £123,000 and take up to 25 days.
A Home Office official said: “Our top priority is to protect the safety of the public, maintenance of the Border Force ships is managed throughout the year to ensure it does not affect our operational effectiveness.’
They did not comment on why the three cutters were out of service at the same time.