In December 2018, the Home Secretary declared a major incident and said that countering this illegal migration would be an operational priority for the Home Office. That was in response to 40 illegal migrants who were picked up on Christmas day crossing the short straits. The Home Secretary had to rush back from his Christmas holiday to try to deal with the crisis. Despite what the Minister says, the problem is getting not better, but worse. At the end of May, 74 people—a record number—were intercepted on one day in a record number of boats. Some 140 migrants were picked up in the month of May, the highest number since December. I have no doubt that the Government say that this is an important issue and that they want to tackle it. In a Westminster Hall debate that I held on
“we have an absolute duty to protect the border and stop organised crime gangs exploiting vulnerable individuals who want to come here by sending them through the busiest shipping lane in the world. That is why we must stop this incredibly dangerous route becoming the new normal for those wanting to enter the UK illegally.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 653, c. 424WH.]
The police have said that trying to cross the short straits is like trying to
“cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot”.
It is incredibly dangerous for the families and children involved. We must be able to defend our coastline from this illegal immigration.
We are spending some €50 million—we are giving that amount to the French Government—to try to stamp out this migration flow, but it is not working. In 2018, 543 illegal migrants attempted to cross to this country from France. There were 438 in the three months from October to December. Eighty per cent. of them are Iranian, and apart from Germany, we are the biggest recipient of asylum claims from Iran of any EU country. The way to solve the problem is not to throw money at the French, but simply to take these people back to France when they are intercepted at sea. That will stop them attempting the crossing in the first place. If they know that they cannot come here and that they will be taken back to French ports, it will put an end to the horrible trade of human trafficking, which is driving this illegal activity.
The Government have, I am afraid, introduced largely cosmetic measures to show that we are trying to tackle this problem. We have had the Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel, HMS Mersey, bobbing around in the channel while Border Force cutters were being returned from the Mediterranean. Not one asylum seeker was intercepted by the Royal Navy, despite the best efforts of all the sailors. I have huge praise for all the men and women in the Border Force, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the coastguard and the Royal Navy, who have been doing their best, but the way to solve the problem is for the Government to take a strategic decision that once these people are intercepted at sea they are returned to France. If they make it to our coast, they should be returned under the Dublin regulations. Returning 30 of these poor individuals is simply not enough when over 500 are coming here during any one-year period. Indeed, 35,000 people claim asylum each year and we have returned only 1,186 since 2015. Will the Minister assure the House that we will have not just warm words, but effective action and a change of policy to send these people back to France?