Migrants crossing the Channel in recent weeks are being exploited by people traffickers who are warning it will be harder to get into the UK after Brexit, a spokeswoman for a local charity supporting new arrivals has said.
An 18-month old child was among two family groups who were picked up on a small vessel by the Border Force on Tuesday and taken to immigration officials for interview, the Home Office said.
Babies and young people are among the increase in “extremely vulnerable” individuals who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel in tiny inflatable dinghies to Dover and the Kent coast since the start of the month.
Most of them are thought to be from Iran, while some are believed to be from Iraq.
Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) is working to help settle some of the unaccompanied young people arriving following the traumatic journey.
They are concerned that the migrants are being exploited by people traffickers who claim that attempts to reach the UK and seek asylum might get even tougher after Brexit.
The warnings have been echoed by French prosecutors. Some migrants in Calais are coming together to buy boats, while others are being charged more than £10,000 to make the dangerous crossing in hired vessels, according to the Times newspaper.
“The situation in Calais and Dunkirk… it’s extremely bad there,” Bridget Chapman, spokeswoman at KRAN, told HuffPost UK.
“Winter is coming, people are living rough. If you have a baby, I can see that it’s an incredibly difficult decision to have to make, but you might feel that you have no choice, ultimately.
“I’m almost certain that people over there are being preyed on by people traffickers who are offering them the opportunity to make this journey. They’re probably saying to them ‘winter is coming, it’s getting colder, weather is turning, it might be tougher after Brexit, you need to go now and if you pay us, we’ll get you across’.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs at the home affairs select committee on Monday that the number of people attempting the journey was “a very significant increase in what we have seen in the past”.
He cited evidence from the National Crime Agency which showed organised criminals were behind the operations, and said he would consider bringing back two cutters deployed in the Mediterranean, to rescue people in the Channel.
Around 123 people have arrived so far this month, according to the BBC, including the group of nine people who were rescued off the coast of Dover in the early hours of Tuesday.
Eight people suffering from hypothermia were rescued from a boat in the Channel on Monday, according to French authorities.
French officials have detected 40 illegal attempts to cross the channel by boat, including 28 since October.
It comes after at least two boats went undetected while crossing the channel, an attempt which has encouraged others to set off on the journey.
Refugee Aid Serbia told the BBC that Iranians heading for Kent in this way had entered the EU via Serbia after a visa-free scheme was launched between the two nations to boost tourism in the southeast European country.
Some 40,000 Iranians are said to have visited through the scheme, which ended in October, but it is not known how many returned to Iran.
Sharokh, 26, was among those who came to Serbia on the visa. He told The Times that he travelled through Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and France, and survived a beating by Croatian police, before reaching Calais this week.
He is hoping to come to the UK.
The thought of anybody doing a journey by dinghy across the busiest shipping lane in the world is horrifying Bridget Chapman, Kent Refugee Action Network
The Iranian Association, which supports refugees in the UK, say some are leaving Iran due to a lack of freedom and human rights violations.
Chapman said of the journey: “It’s really dangerous. The thought of anybody doing a journey by dinghy across the busiest shipping lane in the world is horrifying. The weather is not great, it’s set to get worse.
“But I don’t know, if people are desperate and they feel that they have no choice, we may see more people coming because they may think that no matter how bad it is now, it’s better than doing it in December, in January.”
Migrants come under the responsibility of the UK once they reach British waters.
Once they reach land, Chapman said unaccompanied young people are taken to a refugee centre in Ashford, where they spend six to eight weeks under the care of Kent County Council.
They are given health checks, accommodation in the community and allocated a social worker.
The charity will continue to work with the young people when they leave the centre, helping to “demystify British culture” and assisting them to integrate.
The adults are usually dispersed to different areas around the country.
“They could be sent anywhere - and we won’t know where that is. But they almost certainly won’t stay in camp whereas the young people, if they’re children, if they’re unaccompanied they will stay in Kent and be looked after by Kent County Council and then we’ll work with them,” she told HuffPost UK.
HuffPost UK has approached the Home Office for comment.