Migrant crisis: Dinghies to UK could be 'disabled using nets'

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Migrants on a Border Force dinghyImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
More migrants successfully crossed the Channel in the first three weeks of September than in the whole of 2019

A plan to use nets to stop dinghies carrying migrants across the English Channel is being considered by the government, it has been reported.

Dan O'Mahoney, who leads the Home Office's efforts to tackle illegal crossings to the UK, outlined the strategy to the Sunday Telegraph.

He told the newspaper that British vessels could use the tactic before then returning migrants to France.

Record numbers of migrants are continuing to make the crossing.

In the first three weeks of September, at least 1,892 migrants successfully crossed the Channel - more than in the whole of 2019.

Mr O'Mahoney's strategy has so far been delayed because France is not willing to accept migrants back who have been subject to the tactic, he told the paper.

A former member of the Royal Marines, Mr O'Mahoney said: "We definitely are very, very close to being able to operationalise a safe return tactic where we make an intervention safely on a migrant vessel, take migrants on board our vessel and then take them back to France.

"The problem with that currently is that the French won't accept them back."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Home Office wants to reduce the number of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East

Asked whether the method was similar to Royal Navy trials, in which nets were used to snag up propellers and bring boats to a standstill, Mr O'Mahoney said: "It's that type of thing, yes. So safely disabling the engine and then taking the migrants on board our vessel."

He said this was just one of a number of methods his team has considered deploying over the next few months, but he did not go into further details.

Mr O'Mahoney, appointed by Home Secretary Priti Patel in August, said he was working with people "everywhere across government to come up with new tactics" to tackle illegal migration across the Channel.

His four-stage plan aims to:

  • Use social media to attempt to stop the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East into northern France
  • Reduce the number of asylum seekers leaving the region for the UK
  • Physically prevent entry to the UK
  • Reform Britain's asylum system

The numbers of migrants attempting the perilous journey across the Channel has been exacerbated by a sharp drop in air and rail travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Soaring demand

In September, a Home Office official said people smugglers had cut the cost of crossing the Channel by overloading dinghies with migrants.

The rate charged by criminals to reach the UK from France has fallen by about a third as demand has soared.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said in August the government's handling of the crisis was "lacking in competence and compassion" after a £340m RAF Poseidon P8 aircraft had been used to help Border Force patrol boats to spot migrants.

A week later, the body of a young male migrant from Sudan was found on a French beach after he attempted to make the crossing in a small boat.