Asuspected people smuggler has been arrested in Kent, after a group of eight migrants navigated their way across the channel in an inflatable dinghy and landed on the beach at Dungeness.
Despite a bolstering of patrol boats in the waters between Britain and France, the small vessel made it to the UK undetected – only being spotted lying abandoned on the UK shoreline just after 8am.
This prompted an extensive search and rescue operation on land and at sea, and the all-male group were found in the local area in the following hours.
The arrest of a suspected people smuggler comes less than a week after officials from the National Crime Agency, often dubbed ‘Britain’s FBI’, arrested a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man in Manchester on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants.
While the British man was released under investigation, the Iranian man, Jafar Mohebbi, of Broughton, Salford was charged with possession with intent to supply cannabis, two counts of driving while disqualified and two counts of driving without insurance.
The NCA said: “The investigation into the alleged illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK continues.”
In an effort to stop the smuggling gangs who charge thousands of pounds for a place on a boat, the French and British set up a joint intelligence centre in Calais in November.
The Home Office said at the time that the centre would: “help with the identification, prosecution and dismantling of the organised crime groups currently behind illegal migration attempts by small boats across the Channel.”
Three of the migrants who landed in the UK had peeled off from the main group and were picked up by police outside the outside the house of a young mother three miles away in Lydd.
Kimberly Addy, 31, spotted the men outside her home at 1pm after the officers arrived on the scene.
The mother-of-two said: “I was in the lounge feeding my baby when I saw the police outside.
“I saw the men there earlier but I didn’t think anything of it. They were all walking around normally as if nothing had happened.”
Ms Addy said the men looked to be in their 30s and were wearing wet coats and woolly hats.
She added: “When the police came, they took their jackets off and police gave them foil blankets. “An ambulance pulled up and police sent it away.
“I thought it was all a bit strange – I just saw it from my window.
“The men must have crossed through fields because they came in the opposite direction, not from Dungeness.”
The maritime operation was stood down once it became clear no-one had been left stranded in the sea.
The Home Office said seven people were “in Border Force care” and one was in hospital.
In December, Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the situation a “major incident” and announced plans to bring two Border Force cutters back to the UK to boost sea patrols.
A Navy vessel, HMS Mersey – which was on patrol this morning – is being used to guard the Channel until the cutters return.
Since Christmas, more than 100 migrants have been picked up by British authorities, whether at sea or having made it onto land.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Border Force was contacted by HM Coastguard this morning, Monday 7 January, at around 8.20am after they received reports of an unattended RHIB at Dungeness, Kent.
“Border Force officers were deployed to secure the vessel. A search of the local area found eight people. Seven of those are now in Border Force care and the eighth has been transferred to hospital.
The asylum applicants will have been given a medical assessment before being transferred to immigration officials for an initial interview.
They will then provided with accommodation while their application proceeds through the system.
Of the 504 migrants who tried to cross the English Channel in 2018, 276 managed to get to British waters and coasts, and 228 were intercepted by French authorities.