Questions have been raised over whether Border Force have been performing training exercises in the English Channel this afternoon on how to force asylum seekers to turn back to France.
Channel Rescue, which carries out patrols along the coast, say they have witnessed jet skis circling a dinghy filled with people while Border Force vessels remain close by.
The organisation said in a Tweet: “Three jet skis were definitely circling the dinghy and as a result, the dinghy changed direction…we’re almost certain they are practising pushbacks but they have now moved out of sight so we can longer watch what’s going on.”
Another Tweet read: “Everyone on the dinghy is sat on the tubing.
“They’ve replicated how dinghies are packed while crossing.
“A jet ski just bumped the rear of the dinghy and turned it around. We’re almost certain it’s pushback practice.”
The suspected exercise was spotted off the coast of Kingsdown, near Deal.
It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel has ordered officials to rewrite maritime law to allow boats carrying asylum seekers to be intercepted in the Channel, and Border Force officers will be trained in the new tactics.
After turning the boats around, officials will then contact the French coastguard to inform it that vessels in their country’s territorial waters are in need of rescue.
The tactics could only be used in certain conditions. These will include ensuring the vessel is not in danger of sinking and was able to safely make it back to the French coast.
It is expected the measure will only be used in “very limited circumstances” and will target sturdier boats rather than dinghies.
But charities have since called the move “cruel, dangerous and illegal”.
Ben Bano, from Deal-based Seeking Sanctuary, said: “Are those who put these ideas forward serious about turning around overloaded boats and exposing children and families to yet more danger?
“And these proposals are a clear breach of our legal obligations.”
Kay Marsh, of Channel Rescue, previously said: “International maritime law stipulates that ships have a clear duty to assist those in distress, people at risk of losing their lives at sea must be rescued.
“The announcement from the British government is in direct contravention of this law.”
More than 14,000 people have now made the journey from France to the UK in small boats, almost 6,000 more than made the treacherous journey in 2020.
A Home Office spokeswoman said the government body does not “want to give serious organised criminal groups any advantages by routinely commenting on maritime operational activity relating to border security”.
But added: “We are seeing an unacceptable rise in dangerous and unnecessary small boat crossings, that’s why we continue to explore all options available to bring these numbers down.
“Our primary focus is on preventing people from entering the Channel, tackling the criminal gangs responsible and protecting lives.
“As part of our ongoing operational response, we continue to evaluate and test a range of safe and legal options for stopping small boats.
“All operational procedures used at sea comply and are delivered in accordance with domestic and international law.
“We will fix the broken asylum system through our New Plan for Immigration, break the business model of people smugglers who put lives at risk and welcome people through safe and legal routes and as agreed at G7 we continue to cooperate with our international partners.”
Read more: all the latest news from Dover
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