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Migrant crossings: Conservative MPs urge stronger action

1 month ago 22
Border Force officers aboard HMC Hunter speak to group of people, thought to be migrantsImage copyright PA Media

A group of Conservative politicians has called for tougher action against the rising number of migrants crossing the English Channel.

The 23 Tory MPs and two peers said ministers must do "whatever it takes" to address attempts from migrants to enter the UK using small boats.

More than 4,000 people have successfully crossed the Channel this way so far this year.

Boris Johnson has pledged to work with France to stop channel crossings.

The prime minister said the UK also needed to address current migration laws, which he said made it "very, very difficult" to return people.

More than 700 people were intercepted crossing the English Channel last week, including 235 on Thursday - the record for a single day.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has been in Dover on Monday to meet Border Force staff, a Home Office source has confirmed.

In a letter to Ms Patel, the MPs and peers said the "current surge in illegal immigration must be addressed urgently and radically through stronger enforcement efforts".

"It is strikingly clear that, rather than a 'hostile environment', invading migrants have been welcomed," they wrote.

They added that some migrants had been offered "immediate access to regular payments whilst accommodated at taxpayer expense in expensive hotels."

"All this is relayed to people smugglers and potential economic migrants in France, encouraging and emboldening those intent on facilitating further border crossings."

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Media captionMigrants setting out to sea 20 miles east of Calais were filmed by a BBC team on Saturday

The MPs and peers also criticised the EU's Dublin regulation, which states that a person's asylum claim can be transferred to the first member state they entered.

They said its application had seen a greater number of asylum seekers being transferred to the UK from other EU countries then vice versa since 2017.

It said the UK should refuse to sign up to a "similar agreement" for after the post-Brexit transition period is due to end in December.

Instead, they urged the government to negotiate a deal with France to "facilitate the direct return" of those who cross the Channel, and those intercepted in its waters.

The Ministry of Defence says it has sent an RAF Atlas surveillance aircraft to help Border Force operations in the English Channel.

Over the weekend, the Home Office asked defence chiefs for help to make crossings in small boats "unviable".

Since the demolition of the infamous 'Jungle' nearly four years ago, French authorities have been successful in stopping other large-scale camps from forming.

But migrants do still arrive in Calais; they are just more scattered.

Greater security measures - including a wall built along the motorway with UK funding - have made it more difficult for migrants to stow away on lorries.

But that's led the people smugglers to increasingly turn to using the equally risky method of small boats.

The UK and France have worked closely on this for close to two decades.

The Treaty of Le Touquet which effectively 'moved' the UK border to Calais (and the French border to Dover) to allow checks to happen before crossings, was signed in 2003.

But they can't change geography.

Calais remains a magnet because it is only 20 miles from the UK - on a clear day in Dover, you can see the headlights of French traffic on the other side of the sea.

No amount of planes, walls or Navy deployments can alter that.

Quite apart from the humanitarian issue here, there is added political pressure for the UK government.

David Cameron was pretty roundly criticised for suggesting in 2016 that Brexit would mean the French would pull out of bilateral agreements and we'd see "Jungles" popping up on the South coast of England.

There's certainly no indication of that, but there's no doubt that the images of dinghies landing on Kent's beaches will be a difficult one for a government that has set huge store by its promise to 'take back control' of immigration.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Johnson blamed the rise in crossings on "cruel and criminal gangs" who were risking people's lives by taking them across the Channel.

"We want to stop that working with the French, make sure that they understand that this isn't a good idea," he told reporters during a school visit in East London.

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Media captionPM: Britain should work with “French friends” to stop migrants crossing the English Channel to reach the UK.

He added: "We need to look at the legal framework that we have, all the panoply of laws that an illegal immigrant has at his or her disposal that allow them to stay here, and we need to look at what we can do to change that."

David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee charity, urged politicians not to treat those arriving in the UK as "battering rams" in arguments over immigration.

Speaking on Times Radio, the former Labour foreign secretary said the UK government's appeal to France to do more to stop boats showed the limits of its rhetoric on "taking back control" of borders.

'Cooler heads'

He said asylum claims needed to be processed much more quickly, saying too many cases were taking more than six months when in Germany the standard waiting time was eight to nine weeks.

On reports the Royal Navy could be used to escort boats back, he urged the UK to work with France rather than taking "unilateral" action.

"The law of the sea saying anyone who is in distress needs to be picked up is there for a reason. Cooler heads need to prevail if the UK is to sustain an effective response as well as a humane one".

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