All illegal immigration should categorically be deterred and prevented and Coronavirus has had no impact on our operational capability to respond to illegal migration. Our teams are fully operational, and Border Force and Immigration Enforcement will always have the resources needed to tackle these illegal and dangerous crossings.
Protecting UK borders is a priority for this Government, and it is unacceptable to see the rise of criminal gangs using false promises to take advantage of desperate situations and illegally smuggle people into the UK. The Government is determined to stop this criminal trade and stop these crossings.
The rise we are seeing in illegal boat crossings is primarily because so many of the other routes normally taken by illegal migrants have been closed down. Following the tragedy in Purfleet in last year, where 39 Vietnamese people were found dead, the Home Office upscaled border security, including the opening up of lorries. This action has reduced the number of illegal migrants through this route, but criminal gangs are now exploiting different methodologies, including boat crossings.
The best way to crack down on these crossings is to stop the small boats that carry migrants from ever leaving European shores. That is why the Government is continuing to support the French to deploy extra patrols on French beaches, drones, specialist vehicles and detection equipment to stop boats leaving European shores. French police have also stepped up their response to provide 24/7 cover of the northern beaches, ensuring more detections and interceptions before boats are able to leave.
The Home Office is also making sure that Border Force have the resources needed to tackle these dangerous crossings and keep our border secure. Since January 2019, 111 people smugglers have been convicted and imprisoned, including those behind small boat crossings, and work is constantly underway to bring other perpetrators to justice.
Enforcement agencies including the National Crime Agency are working round the clock to dismantle the criminal networks that are facilitating these illegal crossings, gambling with lives for their own personal gain. Last year 418 arrests were made which led to 203 convictions totalling 437 years imprisonment.
The heinous crime of people smuggling will never tolerated, and I want to assure you that the Home Office and the Government are work tirelessly to bring criminals to justice, and stop these illegal crossings.