Report: UK clearly overwhelmed by surge in migrant crossings

LONDON — Britain’s response to growing numbers of migrants crossing the English Channel on small boats is poor and officials are clearly overwhelmed on some days, an independent inspection found in a report published Thursday.

The review by David Neal, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, was among critical reports published this week on the British government’s handling of migration and asylum-seekers.

Authorities have been struggling to cope with an increasing flow of people fleeing countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq to seek asylum and better opportunities in the U.K. Since the start of the year, around 15,100 people have reached British shores after crossing the English Channel – one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes – from France in unseaworthy vessels like rubber dinghies. The figure is almost double the 7,735 recorded last summer.

On April 13, 651 people made the crossing in 18 boats – the highest daily total so far this year.

“The volume is unprecedented, and on some days the system is clearly overwhelmed,” Neal said.

“Systems, processes and resourcing pathways, which months into the crisis should be routine, codified, auditable and familiar, have been delivered at ‘best effort.’ This is not good enough,” he added.

Neal described the department’s data as “inexcusably awful” and said its security check equipment was “often first generation and unreliable.”

More than 200 migrants absconded from secure hotels after arriving in Britain in just four months, his report found, and some didn’t have their biometrics recorded.

The inspector said his report was submitted to Home Secretary Priti Patel in February and should have been published in April. He said he was “frustrated” by the way the Home Office sat on his findings for months.

The Home Office said it has accepted all of Neal’s recommendations and it has already changed the way it managed migrants arriving in small boats.

A separate independent report, also published Thursday, said U.K. border officials have been “ineffective” and “possibly counter-productive” in preventing migrants from making small boat journeys to British shores.

That review, by former Australian immigration minister Alexander Downer, said the U.K. Border Force’s boats aren’t designed for conducting search and rescue operations.

The charges of incompetency came amid criticism of Britain’s increasingly tough measures to try to stop the small boat crossings. In April, the government agreed on a controversial deal with Rwanda to deport some migrants who entered the U.K. illegally to the east African country.

The first such deportation flight was scheduled to take off last month, but the plane was grounded after a last-minute intervention from the European Court of Human Rights.

Opponents, including Church of England leaders and the U.N. refugee agency, have condemned the move as immoral and inhumane.

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