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Asylum seekers are threatened and injured during journey crossing Channel in small boats

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Asylum seekers being smuggled into the UK are being threatened with violence and sexual assault.

People smugglers are threatening vulnerable and desperate men, women and children into making dangerous journeys across the English Channel in small boats in order to exploit them.

Asylum seekers at Dungeness beach
Asylum seekers at Dungeness beach

It comes as more than 8,500 asylum seekers have travelled from France to the UK’s south east coast, mainly in Kent, in small boats this year so far.

The number for 2021 has already surpassed the figure for the number of people who travelled in 2020, with still five months to go of 2021.

Details of the perilous journeys people are undertaking were disclosed earlier this week by the Home Office and National Crime Agency.

Many of the trips are facilitated by organised crime groups, who aim to exploit those desperate to flee war or persecution by charging them up to thousands of pounds to reach a safe place.

But the people travelling on those small boats often do so under false pretences, having been sold the idea of luxury travel, and often don’t know which country they are heading too.

They risk, among other things, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, or drowning, with some boats deflating or sinking before they cross the stretch of sea.

Scores of suspected asylum seekers are taken to Dover
Scores of suspected asylum seekers are taken to Dover

Some boats are held together with duct tape, others tarpaulin, and few offer life jackets to all the occupants.

Some asylum seekers are threatened with violence from the facilitators, with some women being threatened with sexual violence unless they get on the boats.

Some asylum seekers, including children, arrive in Dover with fuel burns from being squeezed into cramped boats.

One boat discovered by Border Force carried 83 people, an unprecedented number.

It comes as drone footage shows scores of dinghies used by people crossing the English Channel lying in storage in Dover after being intercepted by Border Force.

A landing at Kingsdown earlier this month
A landing at Kingsdown earlier this month

And while there has been a rise in the number of people making the journey in small boats, it is not thought the total number of asylum seekers coming to the UK has changed – just the mode of transport being used.

Previously, people were hiding in the back of lorries or using fake documents to fly into the country.

But with less travel due to Covid, some of these avenues were not viable, and hence the rise in small boat crossings.

Some crime groups are stealing the RHIBs (rigid hulled inflatable boat) from yachts in marinas, which are unsuitable for lengthy trips.

Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed yet more action to tackle the small boats crisis, with £54 million sent to France to double the number of police on beaches.

Stade Court Hotel, Hythe, is being used to accommodate asylum seekers
Stade Court Hotel, Hythe, is being used to accommodate asylum seekers

So far, French authorities have already prevented over 7,500 migrants entering the UK this year.

A new Nationality and Borders bill is also being introduced which will give Border Force officers powers to turn asylum seekers away from the UK while at sea, and makes it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission.

On Sunday, 387 people made the journey to reach the UK, with some people arriving at Dungeness, close to the RNLI lifeboat station.

Today, the head of the RNLI has defended its lifeboat crews for helping to rescue asylum seekers at sea after some of its volunteers have been heckled.

Chief executive Mark Dowie said the charity was “doing the right thing” by going to people’s aid, regardless of their reason for being in the water.

Last week, the Stade Court Hotel in Hythe was closed off to the public after the Home Office made a deal to use it for accommodation for asylum seekers.

Three security guards stood watch at the seaside hotel on Friday.

Former military camp, Napier Barracks, in Folkestone, has also been used by the Home Office to house asylum seekers since September last year.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

Dover Folkestone Hythe Romney Marsh Sam Williams

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