Channel crossing: UK Army sends military-grade drones to France to curb attempts

Migrant crossings: Chris Philp promises a ‘comprehensive plan’

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In the deal, agreed with Paris last year, the armed forces provided drones, thermal imaging gear, advanced binoculars, radar technology and a fleet of motorbikes to detect trafficking boats. France has now intercepted 72 percent of all attempted crossings, in part due to the equipment.

A source told The Times about how thermal imaging equipment is now being used to detect boats that traffickers hide in sand dunes on French beaches.

In addition, the British-provided military-grade drones fare better in misty conditions than those used by the French previously.

The source said: “The traffickers would just wait until it was a misty day and launch their boats all at once.

“The visibility issue is less important for the dinghy because you’re just following a route.

“You basically just point and go.”

The deal was struck in part because of changes to British asylum laws due this summer, which Ministers fear will lead to a surge in refugees.

A Government source added: “There’s going to be a massive step-up in patrols on beaches because the traffickers are quite savvy — they do know what’s happening in the media.

“They used various Brexit deadlines to tell migrants they would no longer be able to get to Britain.”

It comes after the UK granted less than half the number of people asylum or some form of protection last year compared to 2019.

The Home Office said protection in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement was offered to 9,936 people in 2020.

The figures show a massive 52 percent drop from 2019, and shows offers of protection and asylum at their lowest levels since 2014.

Explaining the drop, the Home Office said the fall in the latest year is due to fewer initial decisions being made on asylum applications, at 14,365 last year compared with 20,766 in 2019, in addition to the pause of resettlement activity since March 2020 due to coronavirus.

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It also follows Home Secretary Priti Patel facing questions from MPs during a Home Affairs Committee evidence session on the Napier barracks coronavirus outbreak.

Napier barracks, a military site in Folkestone, Kent, was repurposed into asylum housing last year for around 400 refugees, with those staying at the Baracks required to sleep in dormitories of up to 28 people.

Matthew Rycroft, permanent Home Office secretary, disclosed 178 asylum seekers tested positive during the outbreak in January with a further 19 testing positive in February.

Ms Patel blamed the outbreak on the asylum seekers, and said: “Within accommodation for asylum seekers, people do mingle, and it is a fact – when we look at what happened in Napier Barracks three weeks ago, people were also not following the rules.”

Evidence revealed in court documents last week showed that Public Health England (PHE) had warned the Home Office two weeks before the barracks were repurposed that the dormitories “were not suitable” for use.

Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and chair of the committee, said in reply: “Effectively you’re blaming those people for not following the rules when they had to sleep 28 people to a room.”

Phil Murwill, head of services at Doctors of the World, said: “From the very beginning, the Home Office has ignored the advice of health experts and clinical organisations, and put politics over people’s lives.

“But blaming those forced to live in dormitories of over 20 people, with shared facilities, for spreading COVID-19 is a new low.”

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