RAF plane conducts surveillance in the English Channel as Priti Patel calls for military help to stop migrants

Charity Refugee Action says government ‘is trying to shirk its responsibility to help people fleeing from some of the world’s most violent countries’
Gov UK

By John Johnston

10 Aug 2020

A Royal Air Force plane has undertaken surveillance flights over the English Channel as part of the effort to tackle migrants attempting the crossing from France.

The flight by the Atlas aircraft was authorised by defence secretary Ben Wallace to support Border Force operations in the Channel, it has been reported.

The Ministry of Defence said the aircraft, which flew from RAF Brize Norton, is an "initial offer of assistance" to the Home Office.

The flight comes after home secretary Priti Patel called on the military to help reduce the number of migrant boats crossing the English Channel.

Royal Navy chiefs are considering a formal request from the Home Office to provide assistance in stopping migrant vessels from crossing the Channel following a surge in arrivals in recent weeks.

On Thursday, a record 235 people arrived in dinghies and other small vessels, with a further 146 people landing in 17 boats on Friday, including pregnant women and children.

Patel said she wanted to make the crossing “unviable” and suggested the plans would stop boats from entering UK waters where authorities were then “duty bound” to provide assistance.

At the weekend, the Ministry of Defence said it was "working hard" to fulfil the request which was requested under the military aid to the civilain authorities (MACA) protocol.

Yesterday Patel named former Royal Marine and director of the Joint Maritime Security Centre Dan O'Mahoney as the government’s “Clandestine Channel Threat Commander”, a new role to lead the UK’s response to tackling illegal attempts to reach the UK.

"The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling. We are working to make this route inviable and arresting criminals facilitating crossings," Patel said.

"Dan's appointment is vital to cutting this route by bringing together all operational partners in the UK and in France."

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the joint plan could see Royal Navy ships and drones deployed under a so-called "push back" strategy to prevent vessels leaving French shores.

A French source told the paper the operations were "very difficult".

"The simple fact is that a huge amount of work is successfully being put into stopping these crossings," they said.

"Patrolling an exceptionally busy stretch of sea is very difficult - those involved in operations in both France and Britain will attest to that, but there has been a lot of progress."

Stephen Hale, chief executive of charity Refugee Action said ministers should restart the refugee resettlement programme to provide legal routes for people to come to the UK.

"It's deeply troubling the government is trying to shirk its responsibility to help people fleeing from some of the world’s most violent and oppressive countries," he said.

"Britain is better than this. Refugees deserve better than this. We must step up alongside other countries and make our contribution to the global refugee crisis.

"The government must urgently restart its hugely successful refugee resettlement programme, on hold since March, and make a long-term commitment to this. It must also finally reform the restrictive rules on family reunion so that families are not kept apart."

John Johnston is a reporter for CSW’s sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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