Twice as many channel migrants have arrived in Britain this year compared to 2020, as smuggling gangs are using bigger boats to target smaller ports undetected.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that criminal gangs were being attracted to the cross Channel trafficking operations because of the “high success rate” and big profits.
More than 3,100 people have so far made it across the channel to the UK in small boats compared with around 1,600 at the same time last year.
Sea crossings have spiked since March last year because of Covid-19 travel restrictions and increased border security for freight and rail traffic, said the NCA.
If it continues at the same rate, it would pass 15,000 for the year compared with the record 8,713 in 2020. That was nearly five times the 1,835 in 2019 and 30 times the 299 in 2018, according to Migrationwatch UK data.
The NCA said criminal gangs had also started using bigger boats to try to transport migrants into the UK, targeting small ports away from the busy Dover Strait.
"Organised Crime Gangs (OCGs) have attempted to transport migrants into the UK using larger vessels landing at small ports away from the Dover Strait,” said the NCA in a strategic assessment published Tuesday.
"Migrants transported via this method have a higher chance of being exploited by UK-based criminals than those detected by law enforcement arriving by small boat."
In November, 72 people were found crammed on to a 30-metre fishing boat off the coast of East Anglia. The boat had sailed from the Ostend area of Belgium, the NCA said.
It follows a warning by David Bolt, the former chief inspector of borders, that Britain’s borders have been left open to illegal immigrants because of chronic staff shortages at ports.
He was told by Border Force officers in 2018 it was “resourced to fail” with borders “not secured by any stretch of the imagination” due to the shortages at Dover, Portsmouth, Southampton and Poole.
Migrants from Aghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq and Sudan remain the most commonly detected migrants attempting to enter the UK, according to the NCA.
The OCGs offer an end to end service, helping them cross the Mediterranean into Europe. Before Covid-19 travel restrictions, the most used routes were via Turkey or from Morocco into Spain.
However, from April to September, over half of all detections of migrants were on the central route, from Libya or Tunisia into Italy.
The NCA report comes just a day after Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, repeated her pledge to crackdown on the criminal trade with life sentences for smugglers and new measures to deter illegal migration.
Illegal migrants will be denied the right to settle in the UK even if they are granted asylum.
She is proposing that those who get asylum will only be granted "temporary protection status", which means they will be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK, have limited family reunion rights and no access to benefits unless destitute.
Only those who come to the UK through legitimate routes – via official Government refugee schemes from war zones or to escape persecution – will be entitled to indefinite leave to remain.
Border force are also to get new powers to turn back small boats, although this depends on securing the agreement of the French to take them - and to search freight lorries for illegal migrants.