Ex-Border Force chief warns migrant Channel crisis could repeat 2,000-a-night attempts of two decades ago

Charles Hymas
·2 min read

A former Border Force chief has warned illegal migrant Channel crossings are now so serious they risk repeating the crisis in the 2000s when up to 2,000 a night attempted to enter the UK from France.

Tony Smith, former director general of the Border Force and who was directly in charge of border controls from 2005 to 2007, said the record 202 migrants who crossed on Thursday suggested Britain was “on the cusp” of a surge similar to that in the early 2000s.

“It feels very worrying. I would estimate there were about 80,000 people who came in then, the vast majority from across the Channel at that time. It sends a shiver down my spine remembering,” said Mr Smith.

Thursday’s 202 crossing means the number of migrants to have reached the UK across the Channel this year is already nearly double the 1,892 for the whole of last year.

Mr Smith said he and the Coastguard had initially discounted the migrant boat route across the Channel as too dangerous and difficult after an Anglo-French effort to close down ferry and lorry routes

But he said: “That’s been proven wrong. It seems that they are coming across on surf boards. And as more see it can be done, more will come. It seems very easy. I fear we are now going to see ever increasing numbers.”

He urged the British and French Governments to agree a new deal under which all migrants caught at sea or on British land should be returned to France.

He said the “quid pro quo” for France would be that Britain set up an asylum processing centre in France where any migrant with a legitimate claim to asylum in the UK could be assessed and allowed entry if, for example, they had proved family links in the UK.

It would be similar to the “ juxtaposed” immigration controls in 2001 where the UK moved border force officials  to France.

“Unless we have something like we did in 2001 with a new agreement with the French, it is going to get worse. I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It has to be an agreement with the French that they are prepared to take back migrants whether they are caught on the sea or in Dover,” he added.