Britain is investing in extra patrol boats and surveillance to try to prevent migrants crossing the English Channel, a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday.
Twenty people, including 18 Albanians, were rescued from the Channel over the weekend after their inflatable boat started taking on water.
Last year, extra fencing, cameras and police were deployed at the French terminal of the channel tunnel after passenger and freight services were severely delayed by migrants trying to stow away to Britain.
“We have taken measures at Calais which have improved the situation there: it is clear that people are now trying different routes and we will look to cut those off,” Cameron’s spokesman said.
“We take every necessary action to protect our border security and will continue to do so.”
The government has said the Border Force, which currently has three vessels, will get extra patrol boats to help tackle smuggling of weapons, drugs and migrants. The first batch will be in place in the coming months, it said, but declined to specify how many boats that would include.
Border Force officers have been given extra powers to stop, board, divert and detain vessels and make arrests, and three maritime hubs will also be set up to improve intelligence.
“Our intent is to prevent people attempting to cross the Channel … we are taking steps to improve our ability to combat them,” the spokesman said.
Dorset Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill says having just three dedicated patrol boats operating in UK waters is not enough to protect the border.
“The French have 40 cutters patrolling their seas and we have three,” Underhill told Sky News.
“It’s an absolute scandal. We’ve lost our aerial surveillance. We don’t know who’s coming into this country.
“We’re really exposed and before we have a major terrorist attack, let’s wake up and start reinvesting in our port security.”
Chris Parry, a former rear admiral who was chair of the UK’s Marine Management Organisation, added: “I’m not sure the Border Agency has a strategy for this. The problem has been knocking on the door for some time and now the door is open.
“If we think migrants are slipping across the Channel, there are quite a lot of others … and possibly terrorists that are going to do the same.”
Immigration is a key part of the debate over Britain’s European Union membership ahead of a June 23 referendum.
A poll published in Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper showed support for leaving the EU had grown by 4 points to 46 percent, with Cameron’s former political strategist Lynton Crosby attributing the boost to the “Out” campaign’s focus on migration over the last seven days.