The number of small boat arrivals from northern France to the UK hit record levels in May with 568 migrants crossing the Channel in the last four days of the month.
In the first four months of 2021, the number of crossings – 2,108 – was more than double the figure for that period in 2020 – 896.
Growing numbers come as Home Office staff warn it is not uncommon to work 20-hour shifts to process new arrivals and there are delays in Covid testing on small migrant boats.
Officials say there has been a shift in migration patterns across the Channel in recent weeks, with Vietnamese smugglers shifting from trucks to small boats because they prove to be a more efficient way to reach the Kingdom -United.
The Home Office has asked Mitie contractors to help transport new arrivals from Tug Haven treatment center to short-term detention facilities such as those at Yarl’s Wood Referral Center in Bedfordshire.
“There are not enough staff, not enough space and not enough resources at Tug Haven,” said Lucy Moreton of ISU, the union for border, immigration and customs personnel.
She warned that the small boat treatment center depended on medical volunteers to perform Covid testing and if only one volunteer was available, there could be delays in testing migrants.
“We depend on volunteer medical support,” Moreton said. “Staff face appallingly long hours most of the time. Shifts of up to 20 hours are not uncommon. We are deeply disturbed by this. It’s not acceptable.
She added that the situation often changes. “A relatively new development in recent weeks is for the Vietnamese, not a classic nationality seeking asylum, using small boats rather than trucks.” Traveling by truck takes an average of eight to ten tries; traveling in a small boat takes on average one or two attempts.
Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, which supports asylum seekers in northern France and the UK, said migrants from northern France were increasingly desperate to cross the Channel to the Kingdom – United because of the appalling conditions in Calais.
“The situation in Calais at the moment is indescribable,” she said. “There is still a ban on food distribution in parts of the city and the actions of the police against the migrants are relentless.
“In many parts of Calais, wasteland areas have been stripped of trees and brush so people cannot pitch tents to sleep on. We see people sleeping outside on bare tarmac, in disused gas stations and behind abandoned stores. It is quite understandable that they take great risks to escape. In these desperate cases, the lack of a safe alternative route makes a dangerous voyage in an unsuitable vessel the only viable alternative. “
Ali, an Iranian asylum seeker who arrived in the UK from Calais a few weeks ago after spending a year there, said conditions had recently deteriorated in Calais. “I developed skin problems after being bitten by spiders and insects. The French police were chasing us and we were running away, ”he said.
“I have been referred to the National Referral Mechanism for Potential Victims of Human Trafficking since arriving in the UK. But in Calais on the beach, the French police wrongly accused me of being a smuggler and confiscated my phone to check it. We are not smugglers. We are just asylum seekers. The smugglers treat us so badly. All they care about is money.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Criminal gangs put profits before people’s lives through these dangerous and unnecessary passages. Over 3,500 people have been prevented from crossing the dangerous crossing so far this year and we are fighting the vile criminal gangs behind human trafficking. Inaction is not an option while people are dying.