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Channel migrants: Home secretary declares major incident

Border Force officials detained 12 adult migrants on Friday Image copyright Steve Finn Image caption Border Force officials detained 12 adult migrants on Friday

The rising number of migrants attempting to cross the Channel in small boats has been declared a “major incident” by the UK home secretary.

Sajid Javid has asked for an urgent call with his French counterpart about the situation.

The Home Office said there was “concern that it is only a matter of time before people lose their lives”.

It comes after at least 221 migrants have attempted to cross the Channel to England since the start of November.

Most recently, 12 people were detained off the coast of Dover in the early hours of Friday morning.

Officials on both sides of the Channel have warned of the dangers of crossing what is the world’s busiest shipping lane in a small boat. Police have likened the journey to trying to “cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot”.

In a statement, the Home Office said Mr Javid had “taken control of the response” to the situation.

Image copyright Steve Finn Image caption The 12 detained on Friday were brought to shore and given a medical assessment in Dover before being transferred to immigration officials

Image copyright Steve Finn Image caption The latest detention comes after 40 migrants were rescued from the Channel on Christmas Day

Mr Javid has been appointed “gold commander”, meaning he has ultimate responsibility for the handling and outcome of the incident and sets out a strategy of how to deal with it.

He will now receive daily updates from the Home Office, and has spoken to Border Force officials, Immigration Enforcement and the National Crime Agency in a conference call.

The Home Office added: “The home secretary has also asked for an urgent call with his French counterpart over the weekend to reaffirm the continuing need for the UK and France to work closely together to tackle the problem.

“He has also commissioned detailed options from Border Force about the provision of additional vessels in the Channel, including another Border Force cutter, and whether this is likely to encourage more people to try and make the crossing rather than act as a deterrence.”

Bridget Chapman, from the charity Kent Refugee Action Network, said the situation was in part a result of UK measures to “beef up the security around Calais”.

“We’ve put a big fence up to prevent people from accessing trains and lorries and people are resorting to other methods to get here,” she told the BBC.

“It’s winter, but the weather has been quite good. And I expect people traffickers are exploiting people, saying, ‘You know, things are going to tighten up after Brexit, you need to go now.’”

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