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Media factsheet: Small boats

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No one should be making these dangerous and illegally-facilitated crossings from France to the UK. France is a safe country, with a well-run asylum system.

The Home Office is working in collaboration with the French Government and the relevant international law enforcement agencies to tackle this dangerous and illegal activity. 

Last year, UK Immigration Enforcement made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions for a total of 437 years. Of these 259 arrests and 101 convictions were people smuggling. We will do whatever it takes to stop these crossings completely.

Despite our robust action to tackle illegal migration both domestically and internationally, traffickers will always seek to find clandestine ways to get people to the UK. 

We are developing plans to reform policies and laws that will change the UK’s overall approach to illegal migration and the associated criminality that takes place to stop these crossings completely. In some areas this will require changes to legislation.

We are taking all the necessary action needed to bring these malicious criminals to justice and curb this illegal trade.

When the British people voted to take back control of our borders, this is exactly what they meant.

But it isn’t a simple task and requires action from both sides of the Channel.  Government’s across Europe are in the same position and we are working fast to implement a solution.


We are using all the skills of Border Force, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Immigration Enforcement and French law enforcement to dismantle and arrest the criminal gangs who trade in people smuggling.

Assets on the ground in France have been enhanced and now provide 24/7 cover of the northern beaches.

And we’re also continuing efforts to crack down on the criminal gangs who facilitate the crossings. The NCA and the Home Office introduced a permanent presence in France, with operational leads now based in Paris and Calais, to aid intelligence sharing between the two countries and target the criminal networks involved.

And again, we are seeing signs of success.

Over 1,100 migrants were arrested in France in the first quarter of this year, compared to 342 arrests in the same period last year.

In 2019 Immigration Enforcement made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions for a total of 437 years. Of these 259 arrests and 101 convictions were people smuggling. And we carried out 841 disruptions against organised crime gangs and individuals engaged in organised immigration crime, 404 relating to people smuggling.

This year over 10 people smugglers have been convicted and put behind bars as a result of Immigration Enforcement investigations. With more investigations underway.

In addition, the Home Secretary was in touch with her French counterpart in early May to reaffirm their shared commitment to end the crossings. And to put forward new measures and approaches to tackling the issue – looking again at ways to return more migrants to France.

We are also working across Government to explore how we can clamp down on vexatious immigration claims once the migrants are here.


By the time an unseaworthy small boat reaches the sea, our first priority is to save lives.

The small dinghies, driven by inexperienced criminals, are crossing one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world often in front of large container ships.

The people onboard the dinghies are wearing unsuitable life jackets on rough waters and are unaware of the real and imminent danger they are in.

Once they are in UK waters, the Border Force teams need them to comply and listen quickly so that they can be brought to safety.

It isn’t an easy task. Many of these people are desperate and will threaten their own or their children’s lives rather than go back to France.


Border Force has a total fleet of five cutters and six Coastal Patrol Vessels (CPVs).

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


Coronavirus has had no impact on our operational capability to respond to illegal migration.

All our teams are fully operational, and Border Force and Immigration Enforcement will always have the resources needed to tackle these illegal and dangerous crossings.


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.


France is a safe country. No one should be getting on these boats and putting themselves in danger. Which is why we have already returned over 155 people who arrived on small boats.

The safest thing anyone can do is claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.  

These attempted crossings are reckless acts facilitated by criminals.

People smuggling is illegal, making these small boat crossings illegal. And we are determined to stop them.

As with all organised criminal activity this will take time, but we are absolute in our determination to use all our means to end it.

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