Dutch arrest 500 illegal immigrants attempting to enter UK
Authorities to deploy armed soldiers at ports to support border police and customs officers
Members of the Dutch national police force check a truck as they extend searches for refugees. Photograph: Jerry Lampen/AFP
Almost 500 illegal migrants were arrested trying to cross into Britain from the Netherlands in the first four months of this year – as many as in the whole of 2015.
In response to the figures, the Dutch authorities are to deploy armed soldiers at three of the main ferry ports in support of border police and customs officers already monitoring channel traffic.
With just 15 days to go to the in-out referendum on UK membership of the European Union, the figures lend credence to claims by those in favour of leaving the EU that the numbers attempting to run the gauntlet of cross-channel border controls have been on the increase.
Few of the migrants have been from Iraq or Syria. According to the figures, 220 of the 500 were from Albania, another 110 were from Afghanistan, while the remainder included Chinese, Vietnamese and Russians.
Last month, amid warnings that people-smugglers had stepped up their activity along the coastline, the British government announced a doubling in the number of its Border Force patrol boats to six, concentrating on the east and south coasts.
The Dutch troops are to focus on the three busiest passenger ferry ports, Hook of Holland, which has vessels crossing to Harwich, Europoort near Rotterdam, which has crossings to Hull, and Ijmuiden near Amsterdam, which has sailings to Newcastle.
The Dutch border police say they have begun using sniffer dogs to detect humans in lorries and freight containers in recent months – and confirmed that they had been asking for support from the army since they first noticed the spike in stowaways in February.
“This has been a gradual escalation,” said a border police spokesman. “The figures from the Department of Justice and Security show that more and more illegal migrants have been caught in the past few years. The problem is that there is a limit to our resources.”
The Dutch transport sector has been demanding urgent action from the government and at EU level as well – warning that the longer tough action is delayed the greater the danger to the lives of migrants, many of whom take serious physical risks.
In one notorious case last year, 68 people, including two pregnant women and 15 children, were found locked in cargo containers that had been shipped to England from the Hook of Holland. Four Polish lorry drivers were arrested on suspicion of people smuggling.
Individual lorry drivers too face penalties, with fines of €2,500 per stowaway if illegals are caught in or on their vehicles, even if they’re not aware of their presence. As a result many truckers have been taking longer routes to avoid areas where the migrants tend to gather.
Amid fears of another summer of chaos at Calais, where a record number of migrants, put at around 7,000, have gathered to attempt to get into the UK, the Dutch transport association, TLN, said many of its members now refused to stop within 150km of the French port.