everal migrants have been rescued from the English Channel as the number of people crossing on small boats in the last five-and-a-half years appeared to reach 100,000.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), which aided the UK Coastguard with the search and rescue operation, said lifeboats from Dover, Ramsgate, Dungeness and Littlestone were called out on Thursday morning.
The Home Office confirmed 17 individuals were rescued from the water who had gone overboard and said they were all recovered safely and have been taken ashore for routine health and safety checks.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper thanked the RNLI on Twitter for “today’s vital rescue operation to save lives”, adding: “Appalling that criminal smuggler gangs are getting away with profiting from putting lives at risk.”
The fresh wave of migrants arriving on lifeboats is believed to have pushed the total number of people crossing the English Channel on small boats since 2018 to 100,000.
The “landmark” number is likely to further cast the spotlight on Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” – one of the Prime Minster’s five key priorities he announced at the start of the year.
PA news agency analysis of Government figures since current records began on January 1 2018 showed that, as of Tuesday, 99,960 people had arrived in the UK after making the journey.
RNLI lifeboats were spotted bringing dozens to shore on Thursday, meaning it is likely the milestone has been reached.
A witness said there appeared to be more than 40 people brought ashore on board two lifeboats, which had attended a dinghy out in the Channel.
They included women and children, with one woman carrying a small child in her arms.
The RNLI said in a statement: “This morning all-weather RNLI lifeboats from Dover, Ramsgate and Dungeness, along with Littlestone RNLI’s inshore lifeboat, were tasked to an incident in the Channel by HM Coastguard.
“On arrival at the scene, some casualties were found to be in the water. All casualties are believed to be accounted for and were brought to safety by the RNLI’s volunteer crews.”
The UK Coastguard said: “HM Coastguard has been co-ordinating a search and rescue response to an incident involving small boats off Kent, working with Border Force, Kent Police and other partners.”
Commenting on the incident, Ms Cooper tweeted: “Another awful, dangerous incident in the Channel – boat crossings putting lives at risk. Thank you to RNLI for today’s vital rescue operation to save lives.
“Appalling that criminal smuggler gangs are getting away with profiting from putting lives at risk.”
Data on the number of migrants detected crossing the English Channel in small boats to enter the UK each day is published by the Home Office and Border Force.
The figures are published the day after and in its latest update on Thursday, the data showed that on Wednesday zero people were detected.
Since the beginning of January 2023 to August 9, figures show 15,071 people crossed the Channel.
Tory Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson said he was “very angry” about the 100,000 figure and that “if things don’t go to plan”, the Government may have to take “drastic measures” and leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
On the ECHR, he said he has always been “an advocate of leaving”, adding: “You know, we’re a team. If things don’t work, if things don’t go to plan, then we’ve got to take drastic measures, and I would fully support the Government in doing that.”
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “100,000 is a landmark. Criminals are making fools of us. Billions are being spent on accommodation and our asylum system is overwhelmed. It seems the weather is better able to defend our borders than the Border Force.
“It is time to change our laws so that the British Government has the final word on who can enter and who can stay in the UK.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system.
“Our priority is to stop the boats, and our Small Boats Operational Command is working alongside our French partners and other agencies to disrupt the people smugglers.
“The Government is going even further through our Illegal Migration Act which will mean that people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed to their country of origin or a safe third country.”
There have been a series of Government announcements during what was dubbed “small boats week” in Westminster, which included a crackdown on immigration lawyers helping migrants “exploit” the system, and a new partnership with Turkey to disrupt people-smuggling gangs.
Meanwhile, asylum seekers were finally moved on to the Bibby Stockholm barge on Monday on the Dorset coast after the plans were beset by delays.
On Thursday, it was also announced Bas Javid, currently deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police Service and brother of Tory former home secretary Sajid Javid, will become the director-general of Immigration Enforcement in November.