Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 14th July 2015.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Shadow Home Secretary 12:44 pm, 14th July 2015

I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it this morning.

When order breaks down, a difficult situation can become desperate. That is what is happening in Calais. Today, there are reports that three people were injured after they broke into the French channel tunnel terminal. That comes just a week after a young man from Eritrea died, attempting to board a freight train headed to Britain. We do not know the circumstances of his death, what made him travel more than 3,600 miles to try to enter Britain, nor how much he paid to criminals who may have profited from his death.

The Home Secretary talked about the serious and growing challenge for hauliers, who are worried continually about the security of their load, whether people will try to break in and whether someone might be caught under their wheels, and about the holidaymakers who see people walking between the queuing cars and worry about the security of their boot, but this is a terrible crisis at our border in which lives are being lost and people are being injured.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement today, but it is not the first one that we have had and there have been urgent questions too. The situation has been exacerbated by the huge problems caused by the strike action, but the underlying problem has been getting worse as well. I welcome the additional measures, such as the lorry zone that she announced. I thank Kent police, Border Force and all the authorities for the difficult job that they are having to do. Will she confirm whether the lorry zone is additional capacity? Eurotunnel has already talked about there being additional capacity in place, but has warned that that is just making more people try to get into the tunnel and enter the trains directly. Will she clarify that point? Will she tell us how many additional staff the UK has deployed to Calais since last year and how many additional enforcement staff the French authorities have deployed?

Will the Home Secretary explain what is happening when people are found attempting to cross illegally? She referred to 8,000 people. Is it true that many of them are simply being returned to the streets of Calais to try again? What action has she taken to get a proper process in place in France to assess whether they have an asylum claim and are fleeing persecution or to assess their immigration status and whether they need to return home? Will she say whether the British authorities are fingerprinting those whom they find, which is something I have raised with her before?

The Home Secretary and I will agree that the French authorities need to do much more. Under the Dublin convention, it is their responsibility to assess those who may be vulnerable or who have asylum claims, and who should not be further victim to people traffickers or the despair that comes from being a vulnerable refugee travelling over large distances. Such people need an assessment early on, either in France or in the other countries that they have come from. What is she doing to ensure that the French authorities are assessing those who are living in camps or on the streets in Calais before they make an attempt to reach the border? Can she tell us how many people have been assessed in Calais by the French authorities, and what is being done to increase the number being assessed, rather than simply leaving people in the camps and leaving the problem to get worse?

The Home Secretary will know the importance of diplomatic action and partnership working with France. The former Home Secretary and Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough had to do exactly that when he negotiated the closure of Sangatte many years ago. It would be helpful to hear from her what progress is being made, because at the moment it looks as though the problem is still getting worse.

The Home Secretary talked about the work that is being done to tackle people smuggling more widely, but what is being done to make sure that immigration control and asylum process assessments take place in the southern Mediterranean countries too?

Finally, while it is crucial for us to strengthen border security to ensure that action is being taken in France to address this serious problem, we have a responsibility across Europe to deal with the humanitarian crisis that has been increasing the problem. A significant part of the problem is caused by the war in Syria, which is the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation. We all know of the pressure on families that are fleeing that situation.

The Prime Minister said that the UK Government would accept a “modest expansion” of the programme to accept Syrian refugees. I have urged the Home Secretary many times in the House to accept far more UN refugees from Syria. How many does she now expect to accept? I urge her to work with local authorities across the country, including on reviewing the support processes, to get them to offer places for those who are fleeing persecution. This country has a long tradition of providing humanitarian support and sanctuary for those who need it.

We have had a series of urgent questions and statements, but the problem is getting worse. Can the Secretary of State really put her hand on her heart and say that she thinks that as a result of her statement, things will be better in six months’ time than they are today? It does not feel like they will be. What else can she do to prevent the crisis from simply escalating, and to prevent us from simply being in the same situation in a few months, having the same discussions and asking the same questions, with her only being able to give the same answers?