British police have arrested two men suspected of involvement in smuggling illegal migrants across the English Channel from France, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
A 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man were arrested in Manchester late Wednesday "on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the UK," the NCA said in a statement.
The arrests came as Home Secretary Sajid Javid faced criticism for questioning if those attempting to illegally cross the channel are "genuine" refugees.
Speaking on a visit to the port city of 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?"
The home secretary also suggested that those intercepted by British authorities might have asylum requests denied to deter others.
"If you somehow do make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure you are ultimately not successful because we need to break the link," he said.
Samayya Afzal, community engagement manager for the Muslim Council of Britain, was among those who criticized Javid for questioning the motives of asylum seekers.
"Why is compassion so scarce in the UK's political leadership?" Afzal tweeted.
"And this guy is apparently the favourite to replace [Prime Minister] Theresa May," she added.
Earlier this week, Javid called a recent spike in the number of migrants illegally crossing the channel from France a "major incident" and requested the deployment of naval vessels in the
The government said 539 migrants attempted to travel to Britain on small boats in 2018, 80 per cent of them in the last three months of the year.
Many of the recent migrants said they had travelled from Iran, which Chris Hogben, head of Britain's organized immigration crime task force, said was "really significant."
Hogben told the Financial Times that illegal migration from Iran was complicated by Britain's policy of not returning migrants to the country because of its poor human rights record.
"They don't have to be smuggled covertly into the UK," he said of the Iranian migrants.
"All they need to do is get into British waters and call for British law enforcement's help... because we're not going to send them back," Hogben said.
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