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Channel crossings: Facebook and TikTok team up with police to crack down on people smugglers | UK News

Facebook, TikTok and Twitter will team up with UK law enforcement to crack down on posts by people smugglers encouraging migrants to cross the English Channel, the government says.

Rishi Sunak, who has made cutting the number of small boats arriving on UK shores one of his “five pledges”, said the new partnerships with various social media companies will tackle attempts to “lure” people into paying to make the perilous journey.

Group discounts, free spaces for children and offers of false documents are among the posts the prime minister wants removed to help achieve his promise to “stop the boats”.

Nearly 15,000 people have made the dangerous trip across the Dover Strait in small boats so far this year, according to official data compiled and analysed by Sky News.

This is around 15% less than the same time last year, the data suggests.

The voluntary partnership between social media firms and the National Crime Agency will seek to redirect people away from such content in the same way as is used to tackle content promoting extremism or eating disorders.

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Plans to house asylum seekers in tents

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, as well as TikTok and X, formally known as Twitter, have all signed up to the plans, Downing Street said.

More on Migrant Crossings

It comes as controversy over plans to house asylum seekers on the Bibby Stockholm barge continues.

Mr Sunak said: “To stop the boats, we have to tackle the business model of vile people smugglers at source.

“That means clamping down on their attempts to lure people into making these illegal crossings and profit from putting lives at risk.

“This new commitment from tech firms will see us redouble our efforts to fight back against these criminals, working together to shut down their vile trade.”

Read more:
Lords back down over government plans to stop small boats
Nearly 300 children have died or disappeared in Mediterranean crossings

Labour said the action was “too little, too late” and the Liberal Democrats said it amounted to “tinkering around the edges”.

Kicking off a “small boats week” of linked announcements, Number 10 said the “legacy” backlog of asylum applications made before the end of June 2022 has been reduced by a third since December.

But Labour claimed it will take until 2036 to clear the existing backlog for removals of failed asylum seekers, with nearly 40,000 people awaiting removal in the latest figures.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was “just deluded” for the Conservatives to “boast about progress on tackling the Tories’ asylum chaos”.

Iain Hughes: Body found of firefighter attempting cross Channel charity swim | UK News

The body of a firefighter who disappeared more than a month ago as he attempted to swim the English Channel for charity has been found.

Iain Hughes, crew manager at Wednesbury fire station, West Midlands, set off from the Kent coast on the morning of 20 June accompanied by a support boat but went missing later that day in French waters.

The disappearance of the 42-year-old father-of-two triggered an extensive search by French and Belgian authorities which was later called off.

Iain Hughes. Pic: Iain Hughes
Colleagues have described the 42-year-old’s death as ‘devastating’. Pic: Iain Hughes

West Midlands Fire Service said on Friday the body of a swimmer found in waters off Belgium has been formally identified as Mr Hughes.

In a statement released through the fire service, Mr Hughes’ family said they “miss him more than words can ever say”.

They said: “Our lives were shattered when Iain went missing. He was our world. The news that his body had been found was unbearable. It still is. We miss him more than words can ever say.

“We are proud of Iain for so many reasons.

“He put his heart and soul into training for the swim, but that was Iain – determined to help and support others.”

Mr Hughes had been attempting to raise £21,000 – £1,000 for every mile of his swim – for the British Heart Foundation, The Fire Fighters Charity and the Midlands Air Ambulance.

To date his fundraiser had far exceeded this target by raising more than £56,000.

Iain Hughes. Pic: Iain Hughes
Mr Hughes was ‘determined to help and support others’. Pic: Iain Hughes


Mr Hughes’ family added: “It is lovely to see how much money has been raised for his three charities, but also heartbreaking that he will never know the total.

“Thank you to everyone who has donated and who is still raising money.

“We also want to send our thanks and love to everyone who has been there for us these past few weeks.

“The photo we are releasing sums up the Iain we loved.”

Flags to fly at half-mast

West Midlands Fire Service chief fire officer Wayne Brown said it is “devastating news” and that “Iain’s family are foremost in our thoughts at this distressing time”.

He added: “I know that many people have been affected by Iain’s disappearance.

“We, in turn, have been touched by the hundreds of kind messages we have received, and the overwhelming response to Iain’s fundraising page. Thank you.”

West Midlands Fire Service said flags at its sites will fly at half-mast until sunset on Friday as a mark of respect to Mr Hughes.

He joined West Midlands Fire Service in 1999, at the age of 19.

UK government ‘avoiding asylum responsibilities’ with new proposals to clamp down on Channel migrant crossings, says human rights group | UK News

The UK government is “avoiding the asylum responsibilities it expects others to take” with new plans to clamp down on small boat crossings, a human rights group has said.

Refugee charities have also described the plans as “costly and unworkable” and said they “promise nothing but more demonisation and punishment” of asylum seekers.

It comes as Home Secretary Suella Braverman is set to publish long-promised legislation as early as Tuesday.

A ban on people who come to the UK illegally from claiming asylum is believed to be among the proposals being put forward in a new Illegal Migration Bill.

Government minister Chris Heaton-Harris said on Sunday that the legislation will ensure people who come to the UK illegally “are returned very quickly” or to another country such as Rwanda.

Rishi Sunak has made stopping Channel migrant crossings one of his five priorities in office, promising to introduce new laws to “make sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.

Several Tory MPs welcomed the news that a new bill was imminent, with Tory MP Danny Kruger calling it a “serious plan” on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour.

More on Migrant Crossings

But the plans have been criticised, including by Labour, who have accused the government of “recycling the same rhetoric and failure”.

Suella Braverman
Home Secretary Suella Braverman

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “The Conservatives are responsible for an abysmal failure to tackle the huge increase in dangerous small boat crossings and the criminal gangs who are putting lives at risk and undermining border security.

“Ministers have made countless claims and promises yet the facts show their last law badly failed and made things worse.”

She said Labour was calling for a major new cross-border police unit to go after the criminal gangs, fast track asylum decisions and returns, and urged the government to reach “proper return agreements” with France and other countries, including Belgium.

Read more:
Channel people smuggler reveals how illicit trade works
People smugglers ‘investing profits in UK businesses’

The Liberal Democrats said ministers had drawn up “another half-baked plan”, while on Sunday, trade unions accused the government of being “complicit” in a rise in far-right organised violence and intimidation against refugees.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said plans to deny those crossing in small boats the ability to claim asylum would “shatter the UK’s long-standing commitment under the UN Convention to give people a fair hearing regardless of the path they have taken to reach our shores”.

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Why do migrants cross the Channel?

He also said the plans would “add more cost and chaos to the system”.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, accused the government of presenting “the very same disastrous plan to simply avoid the asylum responsibilities it expects others to take”.

He also said the government’s proposals “promise nothing but more demonisation and punishment of people fleeing conflict and persecution who dare to seek asylum in the UK by means to which government has chosen to restrict them.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday vowed to put an end to “immoral” illegal migration.

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Speaking to the Sunday Express, he said: “Illegal migration is not fair on British taxpayers, it is not fair on those who come here legally and it is not right that criminal gangs should be allowed to continue their immoral trade.

“I’m determined to deliver on my promise to stop the boats.

“So make no mistake, if you come here illegally, you will not be able to stay.”

A report in The Sunday Times said the Home Office had drawn up two plans to stop people arriving via small boats from claiming asylum – either withdrawing the right to appeal against automatic exclusion from the asylum system, or only allowing them to appeal after they have been deported.

A third proposal would prevent people from using the Human Rights Act to prevent their deportations, such as by claiming their right to family life.

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Heaton-Harris on PM’s proposed new laws on migrant crossings

The legislation could also see a duty placed on the home secretary to remove “as soon as reasonably practicable” anyone who arrives on a small boat, either to Rwanda or a “safe third country”.

Cabinet minister Chris Heaton-Harris told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that the new laws would be “very black and white” and “safe and legal routes are certainly the way forward”.

However, questions have been raised about how any such legislation, based on the details known so far, could be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The government’s previous Rwanda scheme became mired in legal challenges, with so far no flights carrying migrants to the Rwandan capital Kigali departing.

The latest Home Office figures show 2,950 migrants have crossed the Channel already this year, while a record 45,756 migrants were recorded to have arrived in the UK last year.

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‘People smuggling is just another job’

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has been clear that if you arrive in the UK illegally, you should not be allowed to stay.

“We will shortly introduce legislation which will ensure that people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly returned to their home country or a safe third country.

“Our work with France is also vital to tackling the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings. We share a determination to tackle this issue together, head-on, to stop the boats.”

Lifeboats launched after fire breaks out on passenger ferry in the Channel | UK News

Three lifeboats have been scrambled from Kent to a ferry in the English Channel after a fire broke out on board.

The Isle of Innisfree was around halfway across the Channel when the blaze broke out in the engine room.

There were 183 people on board in total – 94 passengers and 89 crew members. Everyone is safe and accounted for.

The Isle of Innisfree in the middle of the image, surrounded by RNLI boats. Pic: MarineTraffic
The Isle of Innisfree in the middle of the image, surrounded by RNLI boats. Pic: MarineTraffic

A French tug boat has also been despatched to the scene.

A spokesman for Irish Ferries said: “Irish Ferries can confirm that this evening, the crew on board its ship the Isle of Innisfree were alerted to a small fire in the ship’s engine room while the ship was sailing from Dover to Calais.

“Irish Ferries crews train regularly to deal with incidents at sea, and the company has put its training into action and the fire has been extinguished.

“The Coastguard has been informed and despatched 3 RNLI lifeboats as a precautionary measure.

“The vessel is currently safely at anchor, and as the situation is stable, no emergency assistance is expected to be required.”

HM Coastguard said it “was alerted just after 17:30 today (3 March) to a fire in the engine room of a ferry that was mid-way from Dover to Calais.”

It continued: “The vessel has confirmed that the fire has been extinguished, but it is experiencing technical issues.

“The incident is ongoing.”

Simpsons episode where Homer goes on strike shown by Channel 4 on ‘Walkout Wednesday’ | UK News

Channel 4 has said its showing of a Simpsons episode centred on workers’ rights on the biggest day of strike action in a decade was a coincidence. 

The broadcaster received praise online for showing the episode, which sees Homer Simpson challenge Mr Burns over the employees’ dental plan, which culminates in a strike at the power plant.

The season four episode called Last Exit To Springfield is widely regarded as one of the show’s best.

Its showing at 6pm on Wednesday came after about half a million workers went on strike in increasingly bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

“Walkout Wednesday” saw thousands of schools closed due to action by the National Education Union and picket lines mounted outside railway stations, schools, government departments and universities across the country.

On Twitter, viewers commended Channel 4 for the inadvertent support for the strikes.

“The Simpsons. Channel 4. Very apt episode considering the amount of strikes taking place,” tweeted Alex Ramsden.

“Channel 4 playing the strike ep of the Simpsons. Solidarity,” wrote Twitter user Hannah Fretwell.

“Well done Channel 4 for putting on The Simpsons episode where all the power plant workers go on strike!” added a Twitter user called Jim.

Around 500 migrants crossed Channel to UK today | UK News

Around 500 people crossed from France to England across the Channel today, according to Sky sources.

Groups of people wearing life jackets and some wrapped in blankets were pictured being brought into Dover, Kent, on a Border Force boat.

A record 45,728 made the crossing on small boats last year, up more than 60% on the previous year.

Government figures show 592 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, but the activity was only recorded on three days in January.

Some 1,339 made the journey in the first month of 2022.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Wednesday January 25, 2023.

It comes as MPs heard flights sending migrants to Rwanda may not take place until later this year at the earliest amid ongoing legal action.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the government still hopes to restart flights “as soon as possible”, but said it was “right” to wait until court appeals have concluded.

Asked when the government hopes to restart flights to Rwanda, Mr Jenrick told MPs: “As soon as possible. It obviously remains the government’s policy. We see it as an absolutely critical way of deterring people from making the dangerous crossing and changing the business model of the people smugglers.”

The migrants arrived in Dover, Kent
The migrants boarded a coach at the immigration processing centre in Kent

High Court judges ruled the policy was lawful last month, but so far efforts to launch it have been mired by legal action.

Mr Jenrick said an appeal “will be heard later this year” and added: “We look forward to defending the government’s position once again as robustly as possible and hope, and expect, that we’ll have a similar outcome in the Court of Appeal.”

Asked to confirm if the government was waiting for the appeal to conclude before any flights will start again, he said: “Yes. It’s right that we await to the outcome of the British courts… then obviously the government will decide how to proceed once we have the final judgment.”

‘TikTok traffickers’ who use videos to advertise Channel crossings must face criminal action – MP | Politics News

“TikTok traffickers” who use social media to advertise small boat crossings to migrants must face criminal penalties, ministers have been told.

Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke believes the advertising of Channel crossings on networks such as TikTok and Facebook should be recognised as a crime.

Speaking during a Commons debate on the Online Safety Bill, the Dover MP – whose constituency is at the forefront of the UK’s migration crisis – suggested criminalising such online promotions would save lives and help stem the business model of trafficking groups.

Ms Elphicke highlighted the “massive increase in the number of Albanians crossing the Channel in small boats” – and said it had become “easy to find criminal gangs posting in Albanian on TikTok with videos showing cheery migrants with thumbs up on dinghies scooting across the Channel and motoring into Britain with ease”.

People shout at Member of Parliament (MP) for Dover Natalie Elphicke during a protest following an announcement made by P&O Ferries, in Dover, Britain, March 18, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Natalie Elphicke

Urging the Commons to back her amendment to the bill, she said: “New clause 55 will tackle the TikTok traffickers and help prevent people from risking their lives taking these journeys across the English Channel.”

A group of more than 50 MPs recently wrote to PM Rishi Sunak, urging him to introduce emergency legislation designed to cut small boat crossings.

Ms Elphicke’s amendment would create a new criminal offence of “intentionally sharing a photograph or film that facilitates or promotes modern slavery or illegal immigration”.

It has the support of a group of Tory backbenchers, including former ministers Sir John Hayes and Tim Loughton.

Ms Elphicke told MPs: “Advertising in this context is not done through an advert in the local paper, it is by the posting of a video online and photos online.”

Read more:
Home secretary pledges to do ‘whatever it takes’ to tackle ‘small boats problem’ in the Channel
Tories call for changes to modern slavery rules to send ‘bogus asylum seekers’ home

‘It’s no life here’: Albanians undeterred from seeking a life in the UK

PABest A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Monday November 14, 2022.

She told ministers TikTok, WhatsApp and Facebook had all been identified as platforms actively used by the people smugglers and said “action is needed … to save lives in the Channel”.

Ms Elphicke said her amendment would be a stronger deterrent to traffickers.

She added: “It will make it harder for the people smugglers to sell their wares, it will help to protect people who would be exploited and put at risk by these criminal gangs.

“Risks to life and injury, the risk of modern slavery, risks of being swept into further crime both abroad and here in the UK are very real.

“It is another tool in the toolbox to tackle illegal immigration and prevent modern slavery.”

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Home Secretary Suella Braverman admits migration failure

Culture minister Paul Scully said he would work closely with Ms Elphicke on the legislation’s passage ahead of its consideration in the House of Lords.

“The legislation will give our law enforcement agencies and social media companies the powers and guidance they need to stop the promotion of organised criminal activity on social media.”

Man arrested over mass drowning of migrants in English Channel fighting extradition to France | UK News

An alleged ringleader of a people smuggling gang, accused of sending more than 30 migrants to their deaths in the English Channel, is fighting extradition to France.

Harem Abwbaker, a UK asylum seeker, is said to have charged the migrants $3,200 (£2,680) each for the trip in November last year.

Appearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, the 32-year-old was accused of putting them in a badly-designed boat with inadequate navigation or life-saving equipment.

When the boat deflated and sank in darkness two hours after leaving France – and all but two on board drowned – he allegedly offered their relatives money to keep quiet.

French authorities outline allegations

Two migrants survived and identified Abwbaker as the ‘right-hand man’ of the gang’s leader, according to an extradition warrant issued by the French authorities.

The document also claims he personally helped the migrants on to the boat and electronic data showed his mobile phone was at the launch site on the French coast.

The warrant states the migrants were powerless to respond to an emergency, and “had no chance of facing any event at sea,” Prosecutor Michael McHardy told Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Harem Ahmed Abwbaker. Pic: National Crime Agency
Harem Abwbaker was arrested in Cheltenham. Pic: National Crime Agency

Suspect wants to prove ‘innocence’

Abwbaker, a Kurd, was arrested in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on Tuesday morning. In court he gave his address as the town’s Ramada Hotel.

He sat in the dock in jeans and a grey sweatshirt, scratching his beard during the 30-minute hearing.

Asked if he agreed to be extradited, he said through an interpreter: “If I return now, how can I come back once I’ve proved my innocence? What you’re talking about is my life and my freedom.”

Judge Paul Goldspring said: “It’s clear he’s not consenting.”

Read more:
French government will investigate worst-ever Channel migrant disaster

It’s previously been reported that 27 bodies were recovered the day after the boat sank and four migrants were still missing.

According to the extradition warrant, the French Navy recovered 25 bodies.

This is what remains of the boat that capsized in the Channel and resulted in the deaths of 27 people
The remains of the boat which capsized in the English Channel in November 2021

Abwbaker did not ask for bail and was remanded in custody ahead of an extradition hearing in April. He will appear in court again for a preliminary hearing on 29 December.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman vows to stop Channel migrant crossings – and will ‘make Rwanda scheme work’ | Politics News

The new home secretary has vowed to stop small boats crossing the Channel and to find a way to “make the Rwanda scheme work”.

Suella Braverman, in her first speech in the job, received a standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference after promising to stop the illegal migrant crossings.

“We have got to stop the boats crossing the Channel. This has gone on for too long. But I have to be straight with you, there are no quick fixes,” she said.

“The problem is chronic. Organised criminal gangs are selling a lie to thousands of people. Many are drowning in the Channel.

“Many are leaving a safe country like France and abusing our asylum system.”

Ms Braverman told the Birmingham conference said she will work closely with France “to get more out of our partnership” both on the French coastline and “further upstream” against the criminal gangs smuggling people over.

This announcement was met with a standing ovation from the audience and prompted her to say she had not finished yet.

The home secretary added that in order to prevent illegal migration “we need to find a way to make the Rwanda scheme work”.

She hit out at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) overriding the UK Supreme Court so the government’s first deportation flight to Rwanda was unable to take off.

Her predecessor, Priti Patel, launched the scheme to send migrants, who came into the UK via small boats in the Channel, to Rwanda in a partnership with the African country.

But no flights have yet left the UK due to the ECHR’s decisions, with Ms Braverman saying: “We need to take back control.”

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Is Liz Truss trusted?

Modern slavery

She also said the largest group of migrants in small boats are currently coming from Albania, which she said is “a safe country”.

Ms Braverman said many of them claim to have been trafficked as modern slaves “despite them having paid thousands of pounds to come here, or having willingly taken a dangerous journey across the Channel”.

She said many are not modern slaves and their claims of being trafficked “are lies”.

Dover’s Tory MP Natalie Elphicke told Sky News she welcomed the measures and added that the British people will “absolutely help people in need of asylum” but the situation is abused daily in the town.

Ms Braverman also said there are “egregious examples of convicted paedophiles and rapists” making last-minute claims of modern slavery to block their deportation.

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Demonstrators outside the Royal Courts of Justice, central London, protesting against the Government's plan to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda, while a High Court hearing over the policy is ongoing. Picture date: Monday September 5, 2022.
The Rwanda flights have yet to take off due to legal challenges

Not racist to want to control borders

In her wide-ranging speech, the home secretary said legal migration needs to be controlled so those who emigrate to the UK assimilate.

“It’s not racist for anyone, ethnic minority or otherwise, to want to control our borders,” said Ms Braverman, whose parents came from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s.

“It’s not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system.

“It’s not xenophobic to say that mass and rapid migration places pressure on housing, public services and community relations.

“I reject the Left’s argument that it is hypocritical for someone from an ethnic minority to tell these truths.”

Police officers detain one of the Extinction Rebellion activists who protested at the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain September 2, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Ms Braverman took aim at Extinction Rebellion protesters

Police should not take the knee

She also promised to back the police and to ensure they investigate every neighbourhood crime.

Members applauded when she said officers must have powers to “stop protesters who use guerrilla tactics” and warned activists from environmental groups Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion that they will be jailed for breaking the law during protests.

She also said it was wrong for police to take the knee, join in political demonstrations and for male officers to strip search female suspects.

“More PCs, less PC,” she said to a roar of applause.

The home secretary also pledged to ensure the Prevent terrorism referral scheme is “fit for purpose”.

More than 25,000 migrants have crossed Channel this year, latest figures reveal | Politics News

More than 25,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel this year, latest Home Office statistics have revealed.

The figures showed the total number of people making the dangerous journey from France hit 25,146 on Saturday after a further 19 small boats crossed the water with 915 people on board.

It also brought the monthly total so far to 8,747, with a record-breaking 1,295 arriving in one day on 22nd August.

The numbers are continuing to rise despite the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which it claimed would deter people from making the crossing.

They have yet to deport anyone after legal challenges to the policy grounded its first flight in June, and critics of the scheme continue to battle against it in the courts.

Legal papers revealed Home Secretary Priti Patel had been warned against the move, with one Foreign Office worker saying torture and “even killings” are accepted in the country.

The UK high commissioner to Rwanda in 2021 also warned that the country “has been accused of recruiting refugees to conduct armed operations in neighbouring countries”.

More on Migrant Crossings

But Ms Patel has continued to defend the policy, insisting the country is “safe”, and both Tory leadership candidates have said they would keep the scheme if they become the next prime minister.

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our immigration system is broken and we have to be honest about that. Whether you believe that migration should be high or low, we can all agree that it should be legal and controlled.

“Right now the system is chaotic, with law-abiding citizens seeing boats full of illegal immigrants coming from the safe country of France with our sailors and coastguards seemingly powerless to stop them. It must stop and if I am prime minister I will stop it.”

A full hearing is scheduled to take place next month on whether the Rwanda plan is lawful or not.

Read more:
Smuggler says dangerous crossings will continue

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Tour of Rwanda hostel for asylum seekers

The numbers of migrants crossing the Channel has risen dramatically in the last four years – going from 299 in 2018 to 1,843 in 2019, 8,466 in 2020 and 28,526 last year, official figures show.

But the figure still remains a fraction of the number of people going to mainland Europe, with United Nations data showing at least 120,441 people arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea last in 2021.

A government spokesperson said: “The rise in these dangerous crossings is unacceptable. Not only are they an overt abuse of our immigration laws but they risk the lives of vulnerable people.

“Anyone travelling through safe countries to reach the UK should claim asylum there instead of giving money to criminal gangs with no regard for their lives. Under our Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda, those who enter via illegal routes such as the Channel will be in scope to be relocated there to have their claims considered.

“Our new Nationality and Borders Act is breaking these evil criminal’s business model, through tougher sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country, with 44 people already arrested since it became law.”