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UK treating rise in migrant crossing the Channel as 'major incident'

The move follows the interception of two more vessels carrying 12 migrants off the southeast English coast.

Traffic at the Port of Dover in Kent
Traffic at the Port of Dover in Kent
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

BRITAIN IS TREATING the spike in migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats as “a major incident”, its interior ministry said today.

The move follows the interception of two more vessels carrying 12 migrants off the southeast English coast – the latest in a sharp increase in such cases over the Christmas week.

In the latest incidents, eight Iranian men were spotted in a small boat near the busy port of Dover at around 9am and brought ashore for medical assessments and immigration interviews.

About six hours earlier, border officials detained a Syrian and three Iranians encountered on a dinghy in a similar area.

Interior Minister Sajid Javid held a conference call today with key officials, and has asked for an urgent call with his French counterpart this weekend, according to the ministry.

He has appointed a commander to oversee the response to the incidents and asked for daily updates, it said.

Javid is also assessing whether to deploy additional border enforcement vessels in the Channel amid fears it could encourage more people to try to make the crossing, the ministry added.

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes will visit Dover tomorrow to discuss the situation on the ground with border officials.

Yesterday, she called the rising number of migrant crossings “deeply concerning”, following the discovery of 23 Iranians in three locations in Kent.

Attempts to cross the English Channel – one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes – have been increasing since October, with authorities on both sides struggling to stop them.

Spanish vessel

Meanwhile, a charity rescue vessel carrying 311 mainly African migrants plucked off Libya docked in Spain today, ending a traumatic journey which saw them spend Christmas at sea and several European nations denying the ship entry.

The migrants cheered and applauded as the vessel docked in the port of Crinavis near the southern city of Algeciras.

Proactiva Open Arms, the Spanish charity which runs the Open Arms vessel carrying the migrants, feted the arrival with a “Mission accomplished” tweet.

The migrants come from 19 different countries, including Somalia, Syria and the Ivory Coast. More than a third of them, 139, are minors.

By early afternoon all of the migrants had disembarked from the boat and received clothes and food, as well as medical tests if required, from Red Cross officials. Women and children left the boat first.

“They are in good health in general,” said Inigo Vila, who is in charge of emergencies for the Red Cross in Spain.

Police will identify the migrants before moving them to shelters.

The migrants were rescued on 21 December from three vessels but were denied entry by Italy and Malta. Libya, France and Tunisia did not respond to Proactiva Open Arms’ requests for permission to dock, Madrid said.

On Saturday, a newborn baby and his mother were helicoptered from the boat to Malta, while a 14-year-old suffering from a serious skin infection was taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

- © AFP 2018

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