Calls made for Royal Navy to help with rising numbers of migrants crossing the English Channel

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The Government's immigration minister is to visit Dover on Saturday after Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared the rising number of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel a ‘major incident’.

Caroline Nokes will be joined by the Kent port's MP Charlie Elphicke, who has called for more patrol boats in the Channel to tackle trafficking gangs.

But there were calls for the Royal Navy to be sent in, with one MP warning that the crisis could otherwise escalate into a ‘catastrophe’.

Mr Javid has asked for an urgent call with his French counterpart to address the problem following a Christmas period which has seen a spate of attempts by migrants to cross to the UK by boat.

After two boats carrying 12 men from Syria and Iran were intercepted while they attempted to make the crossing on Friday, Mr Javid also appointed a ‘gold commander’ to oversee the situation and give daily updates.

He has also held a conference call with officials in the Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the National Crime Agency (NCA) - where he was briefed on the latest intelligence and action being taken.

Mr Javid has also asked the Border Force to provide information on whether more vessels will act as a deterrent or encourage more people to make the crossing.

Independent MP and Commons Home Affairs Committee member John Woodcock said he should go further, telling The Sun: ‘The public is losing confidence in the struggling Border Force. It's time to stop the rot by sending in the Royal Navy.

‘If the civilian force can't cope, the Navy must stop this crisis becoming a catastrophe.’

And another committee member, Tory Tim Loughton told the paper: ‘There is a serious security implication, as this is a likely route undesirables who have been fighting in Syria will use if they want to return to the UK.

‘Of course there is now a case for the Royal Navy to be brought in to do border protection in the Channel.’

On Friday, Border Force officials brought the 12 men to shore at Dover and handed them over to immigration officials to be interviewed.

An inflatable boat, carrying one Syrian and three Iranians, was reported to the Coastguard at around 3am. And at around 9am a second boat, which was carrying eight Iranians, was also spotted.

On Christmas Day, more than 40 migrants tried to cross the sea and enter the UK.

Boxing Day saw three more migrants intercepted in a small boat, and on Thursday an inflatable boat carrying nine people was rescued by a lifeboat crew three miles off the coast of Sandgate in Kent.

Ingrid Parrot, spokeswoman for the French Maritime Prefecture for the English Channel, said the number of illicit crossings in small boats had increased from 23 in 2016 and 13 in 2017 to 70 this year, the majority of them after the end of October.

Ms Parrot told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: ‘Before 2018, we didn't have smugglers. But now we have smugglers on the French coast and it is really a network.

‘Before that it was not a network, it was individual migrants who were trying to cross. Now it's a network, a criminal organisation.’

Ms Parrot said smugglers are using the prospect of Brexit as a way to try to encourage migrants to attempt the perilous crossing before the impending change in UK relations with the EU. Crossings had been ‘easier’ since the end of October because of the mild weather, she said.

Lucy Moreton, a spokeswoman for the Immigration Services Union, said Border Force staff feel they do not have the resources needed to deal with the problem.

‘We do only have two cutters - that's woefully inadequate, but we can't just walk into a big ship shop and buy another one,’ Ms Moreton told Today.

‘The cutters that we've got - the youngest is 14 years old - we do need new ones but they will take time to build.’