Military takes charge of Channel in bid to slash migrant crossings

Channel armada to defeat the people smugglers: Air and sea patrols on the way as military takes charge in bid to slash migrant crossings

  • Between 250 and 300 military staff will now police the Channel on busy days
  • Seven ships, a helicopter and drones will be made available to patrol the sea 
  • The idea is Border Force staff will be freed up for processing migrants that arrive

Up to 300 military servicemen, a string of Royal Navy ships and surveillance drones will be deployed to the Channel as the Armed Forces take command of the migrant crisis.

The military took formal operational control of the English Channel yesterday with the Royal Navy assuming Border Force’s responsibility for intercepting migrant boats.

Officials revealed that, on busy days, between 250 and 300 military staff will now police the Channel.

Seven ships including HMS Tyne, plus smaller boats, a helicopter and drones will be made available to patrol the sea and coastline so that no boat goes undetected.

The military took formal operational control of the English Channel yesterday with the Royal Navy assuming Border Force’s responsibility for intercepting migrant boats

The idea is that Border Force staff will then be freed up for processing migrants once they arrive on the UK’s shores.

Unveiling his landmark strategy yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that £50million will be set aside to pay for the new boats, as well as funding aerial surveillance and military personnel.

Speaking on a visit to Kent yesterday, Boris Johnson said the new measures would send a clear message to criminal gangs who persuade desperate refugees to risk their lives crossing the water.

‘These vile people-smugglers are abusing the vulnerable and turning the Channel into a watery graveyard,’ he said.

‘To identify, intercept and investigate these boats, from today the Royal Navy will take over operational command from Border Force in the Channel, taking primacy for our operational response at sea in line with many of our international partners with the aim that no boat makes it to the UK undetected.’

Unveiling his landmark strategy yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that £50million will be set aside to pay for the new boats, as well as funding aerial surveillance and military personnel. Boris Johnson is pictured above visiting Kent yesterday

He added: ‘In addition to the existing task force… this will send a clear message to those piloting the boats – if you risk other people’s lives in the Channel, you risk spending your own life in prison.

‘People who do make it to the UK will be taken not to hotels at vast public expense, rather they will be housed in accommodation centres like those in Greece with the first of these to open shortly.’

Commodore John Craig, the joint inter-agency taskforce commander for the Royal Navy, said: ‘[Navy boats] provide the eyes and ears on the water. We have a moral responsibility to help mariners in distress. It’s to save lives and get people to a place of safety as quickly as possible.’

Saying that offshore patrol vessel HMS Tyne would play a key role, he added: ‘We will place assets closer to the median line of the Channel to intercept boats as soon as they leave French waters.’

An RAF Wildcat helicopter will be the key military asset in the air and will be used to carry out a final ‘sweep’ of the Channel at the end of each day to ensure all migrants – and their dinghies – have been recovered. It will be aided by RAF drones operated out of Lydd Airport in Kent.

Soldiers and airmen will also be based at Dover to help UK Border Force staff with initial processing.

The military will be able to issue directions to civilian staff of the UK Border Force, whose ships will remain part of the Channel taskforce, Commodore Craig said.

It came as hundreds of asylum seekers were brought ashore at Dover after being intercepted by Border Force and RNLI boats.

Tony Smith, former director general of the UK Border Force, welcomed the plan yesterday.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘I think it’s a bold move by the Government to do something, because, as [Boris Johnson] said, if we don’t do anything and we allow the business model to continue then the numbers are just going to keep going up and more and more people are going to fall into the hands of human smugglers and drown.’

He added that he thought the plan would deter people smugglers from selling routes to the UK. But he warned: ‘Whether it will work or not, I think only time will tell.’

An RAF Wildcat helicopter will be the key military asset in the air and will be used to carry out a final ‘sweep’ of the Channel at the end of each day to ensure all migrants – and their dinghies – have been recovered. It will be aided by RAF drones operated out of Lydd Airport in Kent (above)

Officials revealed that, on busy days, between 250 and 300 military staff will now police the Channel. The PM is seen above viewing a drone

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