Original article from Kent Live
Kent has, for many years, been the frontlines of a so-called refugee 'crisis', as asylum seekers and refugees have made the crossing from Europe to the UK across the channel.
In fact, within 24 hours the situation in Kent and the south coast will pass a new milestone.
Last year a total of 8,410 desperate men, women and children successfully made the dangerous 21 mile (34km) crossing, but on Monday, a record 430 people arrived on 14 boats, meaning this year’s figure had risen to 8,159.
This means that since Brexit almost double the numbers of refugees have been risking their lives to enter the United Kingdom.
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The cause of this influx is not clear – alleged 'deterrent' policies like those in place at Napier barracks, or clamp-downs on those stowing away on lorries have not reduced the numbers of those trying to come to the UK to seek safety.
In fact, increasingly harsh stances on border restrictions have done nothing to reduce numbers according to these statistics – though high-profile fatalities in the channel have made headlines in recent months.
Yesterday (July 20), reporter Louie Smith headed to Kent to report on the scale of the humanitarian crisis first-hand.
It’s 8am in the morning and one look out to sea confirms the forecast – perfect weather, with not a cloud or breath of wind in the sky.
But these conditions are also perfect for the people smuggling gangs who have been launching boats up and down the coast of Northern France and Belgium during the early hours.
Sure enough, at 9am I receive an alert informing me the RNLI has dispatched a boat from its station in Dungeness.
As I travel to the scene I hear the Border Force’s patrol vessel is also at sea – a sure sign boats are on their way towards shore.
At around 9.30am I watch as the first boat of the day arrives on the wide, shingle beach in Dungeness.
A group of 32 men, mainly from Iran and North Africa, are shepherded by police away from their black dinghy, which is powered by an outboard motor.
One man named Ahmed, from Iran, tells me he and his friends paid 2,500-3000 Euros each for a place on the boat.
A quick bit of maths shows this small inflatable has been worth almost 100,000 euros to the gangsters who control border crossings like these in Northern Europe.
Ahmed says they set off from France in the dead of night before making a ten hour journey across the channel.
When I ask how safe the crossing was he tells me: “very dangerous” before adding simply: “not nice trip”.
The group, including one man wearing a ‘Live or Die’ T-shirt, stumbles across the stony beach towards a makeshift processing centre at the Dungeness RNLI station.
Some shelter in the shade of the building while others stretch full length to sunbathe as they wait to be booked in by police.
A PC in a high-vis jacket is in charge of formally arresting the migrants.
While searching one man and bagging up his possessions he tells him: “You have entered the UK illegally – you are under arrest”.
When the man replies “I accept” the copper laughs and tells colleagues “and that’s nice of him isn’t it?”.
The man is then asked his age – 37 – before being moved to sit in a separate area.
KentLive uses the term people when referring to those who cross the Channel and arrive on our shores.
That's because, regardless of their status at the point of entry, those moving from one country to the other are human beings.
You will have seen them commonly referred to as migrants. This is not incorrect.
The UN Migration Agency defines a migrant as – any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of the person’s legal status, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what the causes for the movement are, or what the length of the stay is.
KentLive also refers to people in these circumstances as refugees.
The UN definition of refugees is – people who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalised violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.
There is one moment of drama as a makeshift knife – a Stanley blade attached to a handle wrapped in duct tape – is discovered discarded on the floor.
At 10.30am a coach arrives ready to transport the men to a Home Office immigration centre.
After receiving reports of another boat landing I leave the area as the next migrant stands up to be told: “You have entered the UK illegally – you are under arrest”.
Half a mile south along the beach I find another group of 12 men and boys sitting on the perimeter of the Dungeness nuclear power station.
In the shadow of a barbed-wire fence they are being guarded by four officers.
Some are armed cops from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary while others are from Kent Police.
One Iranian man tells me his group left France “almost the middle of the night” for a 12 hour crossing.
The 23-year-old, who did not want his name published, says he paid 2,000 euros for the trip.
He tells me: “It was dangerous – awful.”
The man left his home country four years ago in the hope of a better life. He adds wearily: “It’s a long journey, I’m so tired.”
Monday saw the highest ever number of crossings in a single day, with 430 people landing successfully.
I ask one armed PC whether they are expecting more today. “It’s got to be getting close now for sure”, he admits.
The third boat – and the first containing women and children – arrives shortly after midday.
With 42 migrants on board it is visibly listing to one side while being winched into the shallows.
Among the first to disembark is a dad who carries his young toddler under one arm while hanging onto the ladder.
After being handed his ‘welcome pack’ – a single Covid face mask – the man, from Kuwait, reveals in broken English that his family paid 8,000 euros for the crossing.
He looks exhausted as he recounts how his family – four kids and two parents – lived for one month in the camps of Northern France before making the nine hour trip.
Their entire possessions appear to be a small bundle of clothes.
He tells me his daughters are 12 and 11 while his sons are aged seven and 20 months.
The seven-year-old plays with pebbles while walking up the beach while his younger brother is carried by mum.
When I ask whether they can swim – miming breaststroke with my arms – the dad shakes his head and looks away.
His daughter adds firmly: “no”.
They tell me they were protected by lifejackets.
When asked whether the French authorities ‘helped them cross’ the man shrugs.
They don’t know the politics and don’t care.
As the other passengers disembark one man from Syria flashes me a tired smile before proclaiming “I love England”.
Another, Zakaria, 21, says he has arrived on the beach just 45 days after fleeing his native Iran. He paid £400 for the Channel crossing but didn’t have money left for food.
He adds: “It’s been four days now I didn’t eat. “Crossing the seas was very, very dangerous.
“In the Aegean water [the Mediterranean] we was around five or six days in the water.
"We were 18 in a small wooden ship, if it sinks – we die."
“But we are already ready for death, because it was living death in our country.”
Zakaria, who travelled through Turkey, Italy and France, says he left Iran after being kicked out of school.
He adds that his brother was attacked – possibly killed.
Speaking about his plans for the future he says: “My family are in Iran, there’s nothing I can do for them.
“England is hope. I came because England is a modern country and I speak the language.
“I think they treat us fairly here, we hope they will treat us as a human.
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“So we come here hoping for a new life, a new future.
“I will try my best to become a science teacher.”
In 2019 these types of landings were relatively rare events.
But the surge in crossings since Brexit means ‘processing’ migrants has become business as usual for the local emergency services.
The third landing at Dungeness was watched – and photographed – by around 20 tourists who had gathered on the beach.
Images of human suffering will now form part of their holiday albums.
I watched 86 people land on a half-mile stretch of beach in just three hours, and the scale of the crisis is worrying locals.
Landlady Mimi Durbridge, from the Jolly Fisherman pub, tells me she was left in tears after witnessing a similar landing earlier this year.
Mimi, herself a mum, says: “It was one of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve ever seen.
"There were a couple of men, a few women and some small children.
"They were five, six, seven years old – so old enough to know what was going on.
"It was a real eye opener for me, it was harrowing.”
I was similarly moved watching the 20-month-old boy being carried ashore by his dad.
These types of images are usually associated with refugees fleeing war or natural disasters.
But with crossings rising daily they are set to become a familiar sight on British beaches – unless something is done.