Two men have been arrested on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK, the National Crime Agency said.
A 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester on Wednesday evening.
A National Crime Agency spokesperson said: “NCA officers have tonight arrested a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man in Manchester, on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK.
“As the investigation is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Tonight (2/1/19) NCA officers have arrested a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man in Manchester, on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK.
— NationalCrimeAgency (@NCA_UK) January 2, 2019
The arrests come as it was revealed Home Secretary Sajid Javid had written to the Ministry of Defence to request use of the Royal Navy to help deal with the Channel migrant issue.
An MoD source told the Press Association that HMS Mersey, an offshore patrol vessel, is “available and ready” to be deployed.
It would represent a significant escalation of Britain’s response to the migrant crisis after Mr Javid earlier this week announced the redeployment of two Border Force cutters from the Mediterranean.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Our Armed Forces stand ready to provide additional capacity and expertise to assist the Home Office with the response to migrant crossings. Royal Navy ships continue to conduct patrols to protect the integrity of UK territorial waters.”
On Wednesday Mr Javid was criticised for questioning whether migrants using small boats to make risky journeys across the English Channel are genuine asylum seekers.
Speaking on a visit to Dover he said: “A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country you arrived in?”
He also suggested those picked up by UK authorities faced having asylum requests denied as a deterrent to prevent others undertaking the same dangerous journey.
The Home Secretary, who cut short a family holiday in South Africa to take personal control of the situation following criticism of the Government’s response, defended describing it as a “major incident”.
He told reporters 539 people had crossed the Straits in 2018, with 80% making the journey in the last three months of the year.
Labour backbencher Stella Creasy, who has visited migrant camps in Calais, accused Mr Javid of normalising “anti-refugee rhetoric online”.
She added: “The asylum system in France is completely deadlocked and I fear deliberately so – they should be challenged on that.
“But none of that means Britain can absolve itself of responsibility to refugees.
“People will continue to die and be at mercy of traffickers all the time politicians pretend to play tough for votes rather than recognise why people flee.”
Paul Hook, head of campaigns at the charity Refugee Action, added: “The Home Secretary must remember that these are people who have fled their homes and they each deserve a decent, humanitarian, and understanding response.
“This situation demands our compassion and cool, calm heads and we hope the Home Secretary will reflect this in his statements on the subject.”
Dr Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said Mr Javid’s comments were “deeply concerning”.
She added: “The outcome of an asylum application cannot be pre-judged before it has been made and must be processed on its individual merit, irrespective of how that person reached the country.
“Let us not forget that we are talking about people who are in desperate need of protection, having fled countries with prolific human rights abuses.”
Jon Date, Oxfam’s head of government relations, also criticised Mr Javid’s comments.
He said: “Anyone who arrives in this country seeking safety from war or persecution should have their asylum claim considered.
“To reject it because we don’t like the manner in which they arrive would be illegal and is an affront to fairness and decency.
“If the Home Secretary is serious about protecting lives, he should provide more safe options for people seeking asylum.
“This includes changing the restrictive rules on family reunion so that people with relatives in the UK can apply to live with them.”