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Media factsheet: Small boats

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Tackling smuggling at source

The Home Office is tackling illegal migrant crossings on all fronts with every agency including Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, NCA and policing teams working in tandem with the French and Belgian authorities.

There are extra patrols on French beaches, drones, specialist vehicles and detection equipment which has been deployed to stop small boats leaving European shores.

The Home Office works closely with partners in the UK and overseas to identify and dismantle the organised crime groups that facilitate illegal immigration.

Immigration Enforcement and Border Force are part of Project Invigor, the UK’s NCA-led Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce that targets the criminal networks behind people smuggling. It includes partners working in the UK and internationally.

Additionally, the UK works abroad to reduce factors that may push or force people to attempt such journeys - through creating jobs, tackling modern slavery, providing education and delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance in response to conflicts and natural disasters.

Action against criminals involved in people smuggling 

So far in 2020, 10 people smugglers have been convicted and put behind bars as a result of Immigration Enforcement investigations.

As well as action in the UK, the NCA, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force are working closely with French police. Between December 2018 and December 2019 there were 15 successful French prosecutions which have seen 30 individuals convicted with sentences ranging from 3 months to 6 years.

On 26 February 2020, Charles Lynch, 64, was jailed for three years and eight months after pleading guilty to facilitating illegal immigration into the UK. He had been caught by a Border Force cutter and coastal patrol vessel in the Channel attempting to smuggle eight Albanians into the UK. After the Border Force interception at sea, the investigation was passed to the National Crime Agency.

Four men have been arrested by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the French police as part of an ongoing investigation into an attempt to smuggle migrants into the UK which resulted in the death of an Iranian woman on 9 August. The NCA arrested a 31-year-old man on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration on 20 September. He has been released under investigation. The French authorities arrested three men on 7 October. On 18 December, two of the men were jailed for a combined total of nine years following a trial in France.

On 7 November 2019, Samyar Bani, 35, was convicted following a trial at Canterbury Crown Court of assisting unlawful immigration into the UK. He was jailed for six years. The case was led by officers from Immigration Enforcement.

Between 11 and 21 September, Immigration Enforcement and NCA officers made 11 arrests as part of a series of ongoing investigations into suspected people smuggling across the Channel. All have been released under investigation.

On 8 July 2019, Sarbast Mohammed Hama, 31, pleaded guilty at Lewes Crown Court to assisting unlawful immigration into the UK. He was jailed for three years and four months. The case was led by officers from Immigration Enforcement.

On 3 June 2019, an Iranian national, who is an Imam at the Mosque in Rouen, was sentenced to 2 years in prison for providing boats to organised crime gangs. His associate was sentenced to 9 months in prison and a 3 year ban from the Nord and Pas de Calais.

In May 2019, the French authorities successfully prosecuted a French National for selling a total of 39 boats to migrants. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with a further 18 months suspended for abetting illegal migration between October 2018 and March 2019. An accomplice of this individual was also sentenced to a year imprisonment with a further year suspended for involvement with the transfer of both migrants and boats to beaches in northern France.

On 7 January 2019, a man was arrested in Dungeness on suspicion of assisting unlawful immigration into the UK. He was later charged and pleaded not guilty in court. His trial is scheduled for a date in July 2020 at Canterbury Crown Court.

On 31 January 2019, two British men were jailed for a total of nine years for attempting to smuggle four people, including a six year old child, into the UK at Ramsgate Marina.

UK-France Coordination and Information Centre

The UK-France Coordination and Information Centre opened in Calais in November 2018 as part of the ongoing co-operation between the UK and France to tackle criminality at the border. The centre sees Border Force working closely alongside Police Aux Frontieres as part of a 24/7 operation to:

  • Assist with preventing illegal attempts to cross the shared border
  • Exchange real-time intelligence between UK and French agencies to combat cross-border criminality
  • Work on the prevention of threats to public order on cross-border infrastructure
  • Provide analysis of cross-Channel traffic flows

Officers from Immigration Enforcement and the National Crime Agency (NCA) are also based in the Co-ordination and Information Centre.

More information on the UK-France Coordination and Information Centre, which was part of the commitments agreed by the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, in the Sandhurst Treaty in January 2018 can be found here.

The former Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, and the French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, visited the Centre on Friday 25 January, 2019, more information can be found here.

Working with international partners

The Border Force Maritime Intelligence Bureau and Maritime Coordination Centre maintains a close dialogue with the French Customs operating both at sea and in the air, through the regional centre in Rouen and French law enforcement in Cherbourg.

Additionally the Border Force Maritime Intelligence Bureau are in daily contact with the Belgian and Dutch maritime intelligence centres to ensure information flows are maintained and communication systems manned 24/7.

The NCA and the Home Office has a permanent presence in France to aid intelligence sharing between the two countries and target criminal networks involved in people smuggling.

The Home Office is working closely with the French and Belgian authorities on a daily basis to stop small boats leaving European shores and arriving in the UK illegally. A Border Force officer will soon be based in Zeebrugge to support information sharing with Belgian law enforcement colleagues.

Working within Government and with other agencies

Working with the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Border Force Maritime have worked with commercial operators and Port Security Officers to ensure that sightings of potentially suspicious small vessels are reported immediately.

Additionally, Border Force have worked with HM Coastguard to increase safety broadcasts to all vessels in the Channel, encouraging them to look out for and report small vessels.

Border Force Maritime continues to use Project Kraken to encourage the public and industry to report suspicious activity and reduce the threat from organised crime and terrorism.

Regional General Maritime teams have been bolstered to deliver a 24/7 capability to receive and process migrants.

The Kent Multi-Agency Hub brings together officers from the police, NCA, Border Force, HMRC and IE to share, develop and analyse intelligence between agencies.

Border Force resources in the Channel

Border Force has a total fleet of five cutters and six Coastal Patrol Vessels (CPVs). Two CPVs and three cutters, HMC Protector, HMC Searcher and HMC Seeker, are currently in the Channel.

Border Force’s deployment of maritime capabilities is under constant review.


The UK continues to work closely with France and other countries to return more migrants who have entered the UK by small boat in order to provide a strong deterrent against the dangerous crossings.

Since January 2019, over 155 people who entered the UK illegally on small boats have been returned to Europe.

Joint Action Plan with France

In January, the former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, met with French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner in London to agree a Joint Action Plan which included:

  • Over £6 million (€7m) investment in new security equipment
  • Increased CCTV coverage of beaches and ports, air surveillance and shared intelligence; and
  • A mutual commitment to conduct returns as quickly as possible under international and domestic laws

On 28 September, an enhanced action plan, agreed by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, came into force.

The plan redoubles efforts to address the issue and includes:

  • doubling patrols and deploying new detection equipment to increase interceptions on French beaches
  • action to intensify efforts to tackle criminal gangs through strengthened intelligence sharing
  • engaging directly with migrants to discourage them from making the journey

Assets on the ground have been doubled to provide 24/7 cover of the beaches in northern France, ensuring more detections before boats are able to leave the shore, cutting the number of attempted crossings.

More information can be found here.





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