British authorities announced Wednesday that they had arrested two people in Manchester, England, on suspicion of arranging the illegal movement of migrants across the English Channel into the U.K.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) identified the suspects as a 33-year-old Iranian national and a 24-year-old British man. The NCA declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.
The arrests were made hours after U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid questioned whether migrants trying to reach England in small boats from France were genuine asylum-seekers.
"If you are a genuine asylum-seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country that you arrived in?" said Javid during a visit to the coastal city of Dover, where he noted that France is regarded as a safe location for migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
According to Javid, about 230 migrants tried to cross the English Channel in December alone. He has called the rise a "major incident" and has redeployed two Border Force vessels to deter such crossings.
On the final day of 2018, police picked up a group of 12 migrants on a beach in southwestern England. The group included nine men, two women and a 10-year-old child, all of whom reported they were Iranian.
"We must remember that this is one of the most treacherous stretches of water that there is, 21 miles with people taking grave risk," Javid said Monday after holding a crisis meeting with top officials from the NCA, Britain's Border Force and senior government officials.
The United Nations has also expressed worry about an uptick in dangerous crossings by migrants.
"The increase in attempted crossings of the Channel to the UK from France since autumn is a real concern," U.N. Refugee Agency spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh told The Associated Press in an email Monday. "The winter conditions and use of flimsy vessels present significant dangers to asylum seekers attempting the crossing."
British and French officials have been discussing increasing patrols of the waterway that separates their countries and connects the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The narrow Channel's length is 350 miles, but navigating it can be dangerous for passengers in the small boats typically used for ferrying migrants because of heavy shipping traffic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.