French authorities are “just as committed” as the UK to stopping migrants crossing the Channel in small boats, MPs have been told.
The Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence from Dan O’Mahoney, the Home Office’s clandestine Channel threat commander, who said France had stopped 3,000 people crossing in 2020.
On Wednesday, a record 416 migrants crossed the Channel from France.
Mr O’Mahoney said almost 200 were stopped by the French on the same day.
Citing one example from Wednesday, he told the committee: “[They] stopped a very large Rib [rigid inflatable boat] with unbelievably 63 people on it from leaving the beach.
“There is a lot of joint working and it is delivering results.”
However, the former Royal Marine who reports directly to the Home Secretary, conceded: “It’s nowhere near the level we’d like it to be and that is frustrating.”
Mr O’Mahoney praised Border Force for “doing a fantastic job”.
“Their professionalism and skill is notable and the humanity with which they treat migrants is genuinely impressive,” he said.
The committee was also told many migrants are forced on to small boats and some who arrive in England “don’t even want to come to the UK”.
Mr O’Mahoney said: “We hear a lot of stories about migrants who are literally forced on to boats, have no idea where they are when they get to the UK, because the facilitators don’t get paid until they’ve done that last leg of the journey.”
Travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, better security at the Channel Tunnel and recent good weather “has had a significant impact in the increase in crossings [in small boats],” he added.
More than 7,400 migrants have crossed the Channel in small boats since January 2019.
Abi Tierney, director general of UK visas and immigration at the Home Office, said the numbers of those seeking asylum had dropped from more than 10,000 in the first three months of the year to 5,789 in the second three months.
“France, Germany, Italy and Greece accept a much larger proportion of asylum seekers – they stay there, and a small number come to us,” she said.
Channel crossings by migrants in small boats
Number of people reaching the UK each month since August 2019
She said of the 5,000 migrants arriving so far this year, 98% had claimed asylum.
About half of those applications have been considered so far, she said, with 71% rejected because the UK was not the responsible country – the migrants had travelled through a safe country before arriving in the UK.