A major lifeboat response rescued 17 people from the waters of the Channel early on Thursday, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has confirmed.
Four lifeboats from across Kent were called by HM Coastguard to respond to an incident after people were seen floating in the water. The RNLI said that all the people in difficulty had been accounted for and taken to safety. The Home Office said that all were taken ashore for routine health and safety checks.
Lifeboats from Dover, Ramsgate, Dungeness and Littlestone were called by HM Coastguard to an incident in the Channel on Thursday morning, said the RNLI.
The charity said in a statement: “This morning (Thursday 10 August) all-weather RNLI lifeboats from Dover, Ramsgate and Dungeness, along with Littlestone RNLI’s inshore lifeboat, were tasked to an incident in the Channel by HM Coastguard.
“On arrival at the scene, some casualties were found to be in the water. All casualties are believed to be accounted for and were brought to safety by the RNLI’s volunteer crews.”
With reports of dozens of people being rescued from the sea, the small boat arrivals picked up in the Channel may take the total number of people who have come to the UK via this route above 100,000 for the first time.
The Home Office data goes back to 2018, when small boat arrivals were first logged as a problem. Analysis of government figures from the PA news agency showed that, as of Tuesday, 99,960 people had arrived in the UK after making the journey. The official numbers will be released tomorrow.
A witness said there appeared to be more than 40 people brought ashore onboard two lifeboats, which had attended a dinghy out in the Channel.
Lee Anderson, the Conservative party deputy chair, said he was “very angry” about the approach of the milestone. In an interview with GB News, Anderson said: “I’m very angry about the number. Again, very angry, as you know, every single day when I see these illegal migrants.”
Anderson repeated a claim that people arriving on small boats are not genuine asylum seekers. This contradicts Home Office data which suggests that 90% of people who arrived on small boats last year claimed asylum. Most of these claims have not yet been processed, but of all the claims that have been processed since 2018, 61% have been accepted.
The rescue operation coincides with the government’s ‘small boats week’ intended to focus on stopping the Channel crossings. The first group of asylum seekers due to be housed on the Bibby Stockholm barge in Portland, Dorset, were taken onboard earlier in the week. The barge docked off the Dorset coast nearly three weeks ago and had been empty since due to health and safety concerns.
The refugee charity Care4Calais said it had stopped 20 people from being forced to board the barge after lawyers had their transfers cancelled.
Steve Smith, the charity’s CEO, said: “Among our clients are people who are disabled, who have survived torture and modern slavery and who have had traumatic experiences at sea. To house any human being in a ‘quasi floating prison’ like the Bibby Stockholm is inhumane. To try to do so to this group of people is unbelievably cruel.”
According to official figures, more than 15,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel.
On Friday and Saturday 339 people made the journey after an eight-day hiatus amid poor weather conditions at sea, taking the provisional total for 2023 to date to 15,071.
A Home Office spokesperson said the “unacceptable number” of people risking their lives by making the crossing was placing an “unprecedented strain” on the asylum system.
“Our priority is to stop the boats, and our Small Boats Operational Command is working alongside our French partners and other agencies to disrupt the people smugglers,” they said.
“The government is going even further through our Illegal Migration Act which will mean that people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.”