Two held over Channel migrant smuggling

National Crime Agency officers examine a boat at Greatstone beach in Kent that arrived carrying 12 migrants on 31 December 2018Image copyright
Susan Pilcher

Image caption

National Crime Agency officers examine a boat at Greatstone beach in Kent that arrived carrying 12 migrants on 31 December 2018

Two men have been arrested on suspicion of arranging the “illegal movement of migrants” across the English Channel, the National Crime Agency has said.

The NCA said the 33-year-old Iranian and 24-year-old Briton were held in Manchester on Wednesday.

The UK government has redeployed patrol vessels from the Mediterranean amid concerns at a rise in crossings.

Meanwhile, it is being reported that Home Secretary Sajid Javid has requested help from the Royal Navy.

While the MoD has not confirmed it will provide assistance, a spokesman said: “Our armed forces stand ready to provide additional capacity and expertise to assist the Home Office with the response to migrant crossings.

“Royal Navy ships continue to conduct patrols to protect the integrity of UK territorial waters.”

According to the Press Association, offshore patrol vessel HMS Mersey is “available and ready” to be deployed.

Joint action plan

In a statement, the NCA announced its officers had arrested the two people on Wednesday evening, adding: “As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Earlier in the day, Mr Javid was in Dover visiting Border Force staff patrolling the Channel.

A total of 239 people have reached the UK by boat since November.

Twelve migrants were found on the Kent coast last week and the home secretary defended escalating the UK’s response, saying 80% of the 539 people who had attempted to cross in small boats in 2018, had done so since October.

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French police said they stopped 14 migrants attempting to cross the Channel from Boulogne on Tuesday, the latest in a growing number of people intercepted by the French authorities in the past month.

As part of a joint action plan agreed with France last week, Mr Javid – who cut short his holiday to deal with the issue – ordered two UK Border Force boats to be redeployed from overseas to patrol the Channel.

Only one of the five Border Force cutters – specialist boats which the force describes as being capable of rescuing several migrant boats at the same time – had been working in the Straits of Dover.

The two being brought back are currently in the Mediterranean, where they have been taking part in Operation Frontex, the pan-European effort to deal with much larger migration flows from North Africa and the Middle East, to Italy and Greece.

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