Auhtor: Elena Morresi
Kent’s largest refugee charity fears children will drown off the coast following a recent rise in the number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel in small boats.
A new report has revealed just two of the five British Border Force cutters currently patrol the almost 11,000 miles of UK coastline, with two deployed to aid rescue efforts in the Mediterranean and and Aegean Seas response to the migrant crisis and one kept on standby.
The report follows a recent influx of dangerous refugee journeys in small inflatable dinghies and makeshift ships arriving in Folkestone and Dover over the past fortnight and Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) have expressed their fears people will not be able to reach the coast safely.
KRAN spokesman Bridget Chapman, who delivers life skills to young people seeking asylum in Folkestone, said: “I am concerned we will have children drowning and we have to do everything we can do for them to reach safety.
“Yes, there has been a significant increase of people – that we are aware of – arriving by small craft. It may be people are being pushed out from Calais where the situation is very bad.”
Ms Chapman said she expects people will continue attempting the perilous journey and with weather conditions deteriorating, the journey could be fatal.
“Kent has one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, ” she said. “You only do that kind of journey if you are desperate.
“I am concerned we will have children drowning and we have to do everything we can to help them arrive safely.”
KRAN was established in 2003 to support refugees and asylum seekers (RAS) in Kent. A number of projects aid young asylum seekers to live successfully in Kent communities.
Its Learning for Life project in Folkestone and Canterbury supports young asylum seekers going to college and other vocational pathways.
The agency helps young people transition to life in the UK, raise awareness about the challenges, and develop opportunities for young people to engage with the local community.
KRAN chief executive Razia Shariff revealed recent arrivals, 48 were rescued in just two days, would seem to be Iranian and Kurdish. “We haven’t seen this pattern in a long time,” she said.
“Because of the tightening of the border between Calais and Kent every other way has been made difficult to attempt. We’ve had fatalities already and I think between Brexit and border tightening the situations is quite bleak”.
Nine small crafts with around 80 people on board have reached Kent in the last two weeks with the last incident happening on Sunday 18, when nine people were discover in Copt Point in Folkestone.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke said he was outraged at the lack of suitable patrol vessels.
He said: “Two cutters for the whole coastline is frankly ridiculous. We need more investment so the whole border is secure.
“We are hearing about more and more attempts to smuggle illegal immigrants into this country at beaches, inlets and small ports.
“That people are taking the risk of crossing such a busy shipping route on small craft – some even with young children on board – shows just how desperate they are.
“The Home Office must act urgently to tackle this growing problem by boosting our borders budget and the number of vessels and skilled officers”.
The Home Office response
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are alert to the risk posed by people attempting to reach the UK illegally via small boats.
“This year we have increased the number of coastal patrol vessel and, in light of recent events, have stepped up deployments along the South-East coast.
“We continue to work closely with law enforcement partners in the UK and overseas to tackle people smuggling at source.
“Nobody should put their life at risk attempting to smuggle themselves into the UK across the Channel.
Thankfully, this route to the UK remains relatively rare.”