Fourteen people, believed to be migrants, have been rescued from two dinghies off the Kent coast, which would bring the number to have crossed the Channel illegally in boats so far this month to 78.
Seven people were aboard the first dinghy, intercepted by Border Force officers at 1.30am on Thursday off Dover. Six men and one woman, who said they were Iranian, were passed to the immigration service.
Another seven were found in a second dinghy at 8am. The dinghy was brought into Dover where it was met by Border Force officers. Seven men onboard, who also said they were Iranian, were treated by ambulance staff at the docks, but did not require further medical assistance.
French maritime authorities said a helicopter and rescue ships saved a further 11 people whose boat was in distress off the coast of the French town of Wimereux. Four were admitted to hospital with hypothermia, and the others handed over to border police in Calais.
On Sunday, nine suspected migrants were found clambering up rocks in Folkestone after apparently crossing the Channel in a small boat. Fourteen men and three children on a French fishing boat believed to have been stolen which entered the Port of Dover were among those found or picked up last week.
The majority of those intercepted by or who have presented to immigration officials have claimed to be Iranian. The Home Office said: “We have stepped up deployments of our coastal patrol vessels along the south-east coast in light of recent events. However, this is not an issue that can be resolved by maritime resources alone.
“That is why Immigration Enforcement and Border Force work closely with partners in the UK and overseas to strike people-smuggling at source – identifying and dismantling the organised crime groups that facilitate illegal immigration.
“Nobody should put their life at risk attempting to smuggle themselves into the UK across the Channel and, despite recent events, crossing the Channel in this way thankfully remains relatively rare.”
The Home Office maintained that the suggestion that Britain’s maritime security relies entirely on Border Force vessels took no account of the additional military and law enforcement vessels available.
This month a report outlined how understaffed border checkpoints are being exploited by those seeking to enter the country illegally.
MPs were told only two of the nation’s five Border Force cutters were available to patrol the UK coastline. A third is on standby and two others are deployed in the Mediterranean and the Aegean to help with the wider European migrant crisis.
The report found the number of clandestine detections at south coast ports fell from 1,119 in 2016-17 to 882 in 2017-18, including a drop from 792 to 503 at Dover.
Charlie Elphicke, the MP for Dover and Deal, told the BBC: “The Home Office say they have stepped up patrols in the south-east, yet clearly not enough is being done.”