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Channel migrant crossings will get ‘much worse’, warns ex-Border Force boss

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The number of migrants trying to cross the Channel to reach England will get “much worse”, according to a retired senior Border Force official.

More than 10,000 made the journey in the first six months of 2021, while a record 828 migrants were intercepted on Saturday.

Kevin Saunders, the chief immigration officer for Border Force for 16 years, said: “It’s going to get much worse until bad weather hits the Channel – which is possibly the end of September – you are going to see more and more migrants coming across.”

Kevin Saunders worked for Border Force for 16 years
Image: Kevin Saunders worked for Border Force for 16 years

He said the rise was partly due to Border Force successfully stopping people travelling through the Channel Tunnel and stowing away on lorries: “So people are finding other ways by sea.”

Mr Saunders said the crisis in Afghanistan may fuel the numbers risking their lives to cross and that it will become an “added challenge”.

He wants more support from France because “at the moment it’s like a taxi service”.

“We are rescuing people that have got 10 miles across the Channel and bringing them to the UK,” he said.

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“We desperately need help, either by teaming up with the French more for joined-up maritime patrols in the Channel or with the Navy to help us more; the Border Force hasn’t got the personnel to do it alone.”

The former chief immigration officer also says the Border Force is facing staff shortages, leaving them unable to adequately patrol and process the migrants.

But this is a claim the Home Office says is false.

A spokesperson told Sky News they “will never compromise on border security and continue to fulfil [their] vital function of keeping the border secure and provide the resources needed to do this”.

They added: “Border Force regularly reviews staffing requirements to ensure resources are deployed flexibly as and when required to carry out the vital function of border security.”

Migrant crossings have happened across England’s southeast coast, but the processing of individuals by the UK Border Force happens in Dover – where opinion is divided.

People on the cliffs watch on for different reasons, with some disapproving of their journey and others wanting them to succeed.

One of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the journey is dangerous and not for the faint-hearted and the decision to risk lives in a tiny boat shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Volunteers travel from across the country to the south coast
Image: Volunteers travel from across the country to the south coast

Looking out for them are a group known as Channel Rescue.

Kay Marsh, one of the founding members, set up the group 18 months ago. Volunteers travel from across the country to spot boats and ensure the safe arrival of those on board.

It’s a humanitarian effort, for these strangers they are never likely to meet.

“As a mother myself, I have no idea of the strength it would take to do this journey,” said Ms Marsh.

“I have no idea what it would take for me to put my children in that situation.

“I can’t possibly understand that, none of us can empathise. But you really have to ask yourself, are people really risking their lives, because of the English benefit system?”

Kay Marsh set up the group 18 months ago
Image: Kay Marsh set up the group 18 months ago

The Home Office has signed a £54m deal with France so it can increase surveillance and policing on its side of the border.

It follows a £24m boost given to the French in 2020, but numbers have increased regardless.

Witnessing these crossings and broadcasting them on social media platforms is war veteran Nigel Marcham.

Nigel Marcham watches out for boats crossing the waters
Image: Nigel Marcham watches out for boats crossing the waters

He believes the money being pumped into the surveillance of the crossings should be spent on other causes, such as veteran support.

Watching out for the boats is a hobby he’s spending his pension on.

“I’m here, highlighting the threat that we’ve got coming over to the general public,” Mr Marcham told Sky News.

Watching the boats is a hobby he spends his pension on
Image: Watching the boats is a hobby he spends his pension on

“My passion is, if the government can house what’s coming over these waters in a few hours, why can’t they house our homeless veterans and give them what they deserve after they put their life on the line for this country.”

He also believes that the ongoing perils in Afghanistan will cause more people to flee to the UK.

“I think everyone who comes in today and from now on will say they’re from Afghanistan,” he said.

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“Because I think that is the doorway into this country at the moment, Afghanistan is the trigger word.”

Dover is divided, but as the number of people making this journey increases the topic of illegal migration by sea is not going away any time soon.