'Beyond a joke': Anger in area of Kent at 'how easy' it is to cross Channel and walk into UK

Another summer has passed without resolution to the small boats crisis. Record numbers of migrants have landed on the Kent coast this year. The asylum seekers are bussed away to be processed but, as w

'Beyond a joke': Anger in area of Kent at 'how easy' it is to cross Channel and walk into UK

Another summer has passed without resolution to the small boats crisis.

Record numbers of migrants have landed on the Kent coast this year.

The asylum seekers are bussed away to be processed but, as we discovered, they leave behind them coastal communities where some describe a mood of frustration, exhaustion and division over the issue.

Sky News has been given videos made by a parish councillor who, utterly fed up at the failure of the government to stop the crossings, filmed herself and others challenging migrants arriving on the beach at Dungeness a few weeks ago.

Kim Rye shared the videos with us. In the footage, someone else is heard shouting "lawbreakers".

Migrants arrive on the beach at Dungeness
Image: Migrants arrive on the beach at Dungeness

Mrs Rye, walking alongside a young man who has just stepped on to the beach off a rescue boat, admits she is angry as she films herself asking him: "Can you tell me why you're here.. was France not a nice country to live in? What's wrong with France".

He replies briefly that he's come to England because of "the language".

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We met Mrs Rye and her husband Graham who say they want to make it clear they welcome genuine refugees but admit their attitude towards asylum seekers and in particular economic migrants is hostile.

She says: "Young men getting off a boat and strutting up the shingle wearing Nike trainers, carrying smartphones - I'm sorry but that's not a refugee."

Mrs Rye describes the arrival of the illegal boats as "an invasion".

She says: "This is how easy it is now just to walk into this country undetected. It really is way beyond a joke."

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Sky News witnesses people attempting to reach the UK's shores while French police fail to intervene.

She adds it's "becoming a frequent occurrence" to see migrants who haven't been picked up by the authorities wondering around.

"If you lived through this every day, if you're listening to the helicopters going up, the police sirens and that's why I'm angry. I feel very protective of this community and the people in it. The people who can't speak for themselves because they're afraid."

Graham Rye puts into words his security fears.

He says: "Nobody knows who those people are. They don't know who they are, don't know where they've come from. The longer it goes on, the greater the chance something nasty will happen. Somebody coming up that beach tooled up with AK-47s."

It's clear amongst the people we spoke to along the coast between Dungeness, Lydd, Littlestone and Dymchurch that this is a hugely divisive issue.

Around Dungeness some people have strong views - but most are afraid to publicly share them.

One local I spoke to who didn't want to be identified called the small boat arrivals "relentless", describing their frustration when roads are closed to take coaches of migrants away.

Migrants  - manhandling a large inflatable boat down a northern French beach, to get to the seafront in order to to cross the Channel.  - re copy from  Adam Parsons and Sophie Garratt
Image: Migrants carry a large inflatable boat down a northern French beach

More than one person I spoke to described the coaches as "luxury". Whether or not that's true it gives a sense of the feeling amongst some in the community who appear to resent the migrants and the potential impact it has on where they live and work.

On a busy day, local resources called in to help can involve RNLI crews - who are mostly volunteers and work in the community - alongside Kent police, Border Force and a rescue helicopter.

One RNLI crew member says this of the record-breaking summer of small boat arrivals: "It puts a lot of stress on us but we're here to save lives. I think for somebody to make that journey they have to be in peril."

The crew member told me he'd seen holidaymakers start running when migrants walked up the beach.

"It must be alarming," he says. But, describing the migrants as "very distressed", he added: "It's a shame something can't be done."

And that's something everyone seems to agree on.

There is abject frustration that the French keep getting money to try to help break the cycle and crackdown on smugglers. Sky News has calculated the UK government has committed nearly £200m to the French over the last six years.

Mike Golding has lived in Dungeness for more than 40 years.

A Border Force vessel intercepts a group of people thought to be migrants in a small boat off the coast of Dover in Kent. Picture date: Friday September 17, 2021.
Image: A Border Force vessel intercepts a group of people thought to be migrants in a small boat off the coast of Dover

He says: "You've got to feel sympathy for them (the migrants) but you've got to draw the line. How many are you going to let into the country? And what you are going to do about it to stop them? The French are not going to do anything. They want rid of them as much as we want them."

I ask him if he's resigned to the way things are.

"Yes very much so," he replies. "Nowadays you just take it for granted they come and that's it really. Nothing we can do at this level."

So these communities go into another season waiting for the government to deliver on its promise to tackle the rise in Channel crossings.

Border Force officers rescue a number of people following a small boat incident in the Channel
Image: Border Force officers rescue a number of people following a small boat incident in the Channel

Terry Preston, who has lived in Dymchurch for most of his life, says: "Of course there's got to be an immigration system - we can't on this small island take everyone that comes.

"But there has got to be a compassionate way that's dealt with. We need to treat these people with compassion and justice. They must be totally desperate to do that - it's not something they do lightly."

Mr Preston also accepts the small boats crisis has taken its toll locally.

He says: "It's very divisive and it's certainly divided the community."