People traffickers 'paying boat crews to get migrants across Channel'

People traffickers ‘are paying French fishing boat crews to get migrants across the English Channel without being spotted by military drones’

  • Migrants clamber into dinghies disguised in the fishing boat once in open water
  • Using fishing trips as a guise allows groups to evade detection by drones 
  • The £22 million Watchkeeper drone launched its first reconnaissance this year

People traffickers are hiring French fishing boat crews to carry desperate migrants halfway across the Channel in a bid to evade eye-in-the-sky military drones.

Once in open water, asylum seekers clamber into pre-inflated dinghies disguised in the fishing boat to complete the rest of the perilous 21-mile crossing, reports suggest. 

Using fishing trips as a guise allows groups to evade detection by drones – such as the £22 million Watchkeeper which launched its first reconnaissance mission earlier this year.

Fishing boats commissioned by gang bosses are departing from Calais in the earlier hours of the morning and, once around halfway across the Channel, are standing stationary for some 15 minutes, reports reveal.

The 15-minute slot would be enough time for the highly-dangerous inflatable vessels to be cast out into the water – before the desperate migrants climb onboard.

On Sunday morning the French Navy intercepted 11 boats (one pictured) containing a total of 191 migrants trying to get across the English Channel 


Asylum seekers are seen wearing life vests with blankets as they are brought to shore on Sunday

Using fishing trips as a guise allows groups to evade detection by drones – such as the £22 million Watchkeeper (pictured) which launched its first reconnaissance mission earlier this year 

The boats then head back to French shores, evidence seen by The Sun has revealed

A source said the use of fishing boats ‘is becoming a big problem’. 

They added: ‘Nobody is going to suspect a French fishing boat. The organised crime gangs have infiltrated them.’

Yesterday, tragedy struck when a migrant drowned as he tried to get to Britain from northern France via a makeshift boat. 

The body of a man, who cannot be identified because he was not carrying any documents, was found on the beach at Sangatte, next to Calais, on Sunday morning.

Next to him was a life vest – one typical of the kind that migrants wear as they pack rigid inflatable dinghies bound for the coast of England, or by those using makeshift crafts.  

On Sunday morning the French Navy intercepted 11 boats containing a total of 191 migrants trying to get across the English Channel.

 Border Force officials bring a group of migrants wearing life jackets to shore in Calais on Sunday

According to Home Office Figures, 170 migrants crossed the Channel in just 12 small boats on Saturday, while a further 222 were prevented from crossing by the French authorities. 

Pascal Marconville, the prosecutor at nearby Boulogne-sur-Mer, opened a criminal enquiry into the drowning and confirmed that the man ‘had no identity papers on him.’

Mr Marconville said he was ‘aged in the 20 to 40 range’ and was of Middle Eastern appearance.

‘An examination of the body does not reveal the intervention of a third party,’ said Mr Marconville.

He added that the position of the corpse and the absence of footprints in the sand around it made it clear that the ‘body was thrown back by the sea’.

He said it was likely the victim had drowned trying to make the crossing this weekend and that his body had washed up on the shore just a few hours later.

Mr Marconville said officers investigating the incident would work with the migrant communities based in Calais and Dunkirk to try to establish his identity and the circumstances around his death.

The man’s body was found by the emergency services at 8am, following a call from a member of the public.

Ambulance staff attempted to revive the man, but he was declared dead at the scene. 

The latest drowning follows a war of words between France and Britain over who should be preventing migrants making the perilous sea journey between the two countries.

The co-founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, said: ‘Refugees take this risk because they are frightened, fleeing appalling horrors in some of the most dangerous places on earth.

‘They do it because of the grim and unsanitary conditions in Calais, where they are constantly harassed and abused by the authorities.

‘They do it because there is no safe and legal way to have their UK asylum claim heard.’

Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, said: ‘These crossings are facilitated by callous criminals who smuggle people out of safe EU countries and put more pressure on our broken asylum system – delaying or denying support to those genuinely in need of protection.

Migrants being brought to the Port of Dover on Sunday after being intercepted in the English Channel

‘We are working closely with the French who today have stopped 188 people from making this extremely dangerous crossing, seizing boats and equipment and intercepting people inland. 

‘This week the Home Office and NCA have also made 12 arrests of individuals involved in people smuggling and illegal entry.

‘We are also committed to fixing the asylum system, to stop those who have no right to be in the UK coming here, to make it fairer and firmer, compassionate to those who need help and welcoming people through safe and legal routes.’ 

Among those detained on Saturday were 14 migrants are thought to have landed on a beach at Dungeness on the Romney Marsh where they were handed over to immigration officials.

A migrant wearing only socks steps from the Border Force boat on to dry land at the Port of Dover on Sunday

On Sunday, Border force brought in this group of migrants to the Port of Dover after their vessel was intercepted in the English Channel 

It comes after another 27 were detained on Friday in one large rigid hulled inflatable boat (RHIB).

And French authorities also made two interceptions on Friday at sea involving 25 people. They also prevented a further eight people from leaving the beaches around Calais.

Minister for Immigration Compliance and the Courts, Chris Philp, said: ‘We are taking action at every step of these illegally-facilitated journeys to make this route unviable.

‘We are working closely with the French who today have stopped 222 people from making this dangerous crossing, seizing boats and equipment and intercepting people inland. This week the Home Office and NCA have also made 12 arrests of individuals involved in people smuggling and illegal entry.

‘We are also committed to fixing the asylum system, to stop those who have no right to be in the UK coming here, to make it fairer and firmer, compassionate to those who need help and welcoming people through safe and legal routes.’

Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander for Border Force, said: ‘These crossings are facilitated by callous criminals who smuggle people out of safe EU countries and put more pressure on our broken asylum system – delaying or denying support to those genuinely in need of protection’. Pictured: Migrants being brought into Dover on Sunday

Saturday’s numbers mean a record 7,370 migrants have so far reached UK shores in small boats compared to around 1,850 in 2019. Pictured: Migrants on Saturday

Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander for Border Force, said: ‘These crossings are facilitated by callous criminals who smuggle people out of safe EU countries and put more pressure on our broken asylum system – delaying or denying support to those genuinely in need of protection.

‘We have committed to fixing the asylum system, to stop those who have no right to be in the UK coming here. The new system will be fairer and firmer and will be compassionate towards those who need our help, welcoming people through safe and legal routes.

‘We are working closely with the French, who today stopped 33 people from making these crossings.’

Saturday’s numbers mean a record 7,370 migrants have so far reached UK shores in small boats compared to around 1,850 in 2019.

In September alone 1,954 made it across the English Channel in small boats.

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