Clandestine Migrants (Harwich)

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 8th June 2015.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, Harwich and North Essex 3:35 pm, 8th June 2015

I thank my hon. Friend for his statement. Can he confirm that this is, in fact, one of the largest discoveries of clandestines ever at a port of entry into the UK? I join him in his praise for Border Force and the effectiveness of its operation. I also join him in underlining what a pitiful sight these individuals were and in remembering that they are the victims of people traffickers as much as they are seeking to exploit the system themselves.

Does the Minister share public concern about the immediate implications of this discovery, which perhaps arise under three main issues? How much does this incident demonstrate the increasing pressures on Border Force and the UK authorities, and do they have adequate manpower and equipment? Harwich international port is able to stop and search only about 6% of the 250,000 commercial vehicles entering the UK at Harwich each year. It does not know and cannot know how many unchecked vehicles might contain undetected clandestines. Seeking out illegal entrants is not its first priority, which is to swipe passports of known passengers and carry out anti-terrorist measures.

Secondly, although Border Force was able to reassure me that it has effective working relationships with its counterparts in Holland and elsewhere across the continent, the UK does not have an agreement with Holland on what is known as—the Minister referred to it—juxtaposed controls, similar to those with France, which enable the UK authorities to operate on the ground at Calais and other French channel ports. Without criticising the Dutch Government in any way, this incident raises the question of whether arrangements at Hook of Holland need to be reviewed?

Thirdly, what signal does this send? Yes, we found these individuals, and I am delighted that the Minister has been able to tell us that 15 of these clandestine migrants have already been deported, but out of the 68, what is the likelihood that many will end up achieving what they wanted and be allowed to stay here? Why do clandestines cross continents of free countries to claim asylum here? While we must honour our obligations under the tightly defined criteria for asylum claims laid down in the 1951 Geneva convention, how much does the way that we adjudicate on the much wider provisions of the European convention on human rights unreasonably inflate asylum claims so that the UK attracts people to claim asylum here rather than elsewhere, and what should be done about that?