Deploying the Navy to stop migrants crossing the Channel would be “unlawful, reckless and dangerous”, human rights campaigners have warned.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, from Amnesty International UK, said that while ministers “beat their chests”, the “real and immediate needs of women, men and children fleeing war and persecution are being ignored.”
“What is needed is cooperation with France to share responsibility for providing a place of safety, including the UK government reuniting families and enabling more people to travel safely to make asylum claims in this country,” he said.
The message comes after the Home Office formally asked defence chiefs for naval support for the Border Force in the Dover Straits amid a spike in people making the perilous journey to reach the UK.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said it was “assessing the requirement using the formal Military Aid to the Civilian Authorities process and are working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist”.
But Valdez-Symonds said the only people benefitting from the government’s “increasing determination to shirk responsibility” was “smugglers and hate-mongers”.
“It is wholly legitimate for people to seek asylum in this country - even though relatively few people do - and sadly, for some, these dangerous journeys are the only means available,” he added.
More than 4,000 migrants have now reached the UK in 2020 by crossing the English Channel in small boats, the PA news agency reported on Sunday – including families with young children.
Aid workers in Calais have reported “unbelievably tough” conditions for migrants in Calais in recent weeks.
Care4Calais founder Clare Moseley said: “Sending warships to meet traumatised migrants is not the response of a civilised nation.
“They are exhausted, scared and defenceless. They are not in any way a threat.”
Moseley told PA: “I have been in Calais for five years and yet every day I hear new stories from people who have lost their families in conflicts, suffered torture under harsh regimes or been cruelly persecuted for political or religious beliefs.
“They never chose to leave their homes and everything they know; migrants are forced to flee by terrible events beyond their control.
“Priti Patel’s calls for more action have resulted in daily police raids that leave people exhausted, scared and not knowing which way to turn.”
On Sunday, the home secretary appointed a ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’ – a new role designed to lead the UK’s response to “tackling illegal attempts to reach the UK”.
Patel said: “The number of illegal small boat crossings is appalling.
“We are working to make this route unviable and arresting the criminals facilitating these crossings and making sure they are brought to justice.”
However, her comments come after HuffPost UK revealed on Saturday that – despite pursuing discussions with the Ministry of Defence – it had still not reopened its flagship settlement scheme.
It means that thousands of refugees had not been able to come to the UK through one of the only available safe and legal routes.
Despite this Chris Philp, minister for immigration compliance, said there had been an “unacceptable increase” in the number of migrants crossing the Channel in the past week.
“France is a safe country, so I share the anger and frustration of the public,” he said. “This situation simply cannot go on.
“I will be in Paris early next week to seek to agree stronger measures with them, including interceptions and returns, to tackle this shared challenge head on.
“We have to make the route completely unviable. Then migrants will have no incentive to come to northern France or attempt the crossing in the first place.”
Philp said the government intends to “return as many migrants who have arrived as possible”.
“There are returns flights planned in the coming days,” he said. “And we will also continue to go after the heinous criminals and organised crime networks putting people’s lives at risk.
“Twenty-two people smugglers have been jailed this year and two more were charged recently.”
Meanwhile, asked about reports that the Navy will be brought in to stop migrants crossing the Channel, a Home Office spokesperson said:
“The Home Office submitted a Military Aid to Civilian Authorities request on Friday as part of its work into the situation in the English Channel.
“Home Office staff have been working closely with MoD colleagues over the weekend in order to assess what military expertise and capability can be provided.”