Illegal Seaborne Migration

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 4th June 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 4:16 pm, 4th June 2019

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but this might be a somewhat lengthy response. I reassure my hon. Friend that gold command still meets on a weekly basis and continues to do so, because we have always been conscious that the summer months may well bring better weather that would further incentivise people to make what is an incredibly risky journey.

My hon. Friend talked about Dublin returns, but I am very conscious that in many cases, these people have fallen prey to organised crime gangs. Their journey through Europe is incredibly rapid. There is very little evidence of them being in any camps around the Calais area before they seek to make a crossing, and there is simply no hit on the Eurodac system to demonstrate that they have been in another EU country before they arrive here. Under those circumstances, one cannot use the Dublin regulation to return them because they have simply not been recorded in another EU member state. More returns are in the pipeline—there have been 30 so far. We continue to work with not just EU member states but countries of origin to make sure that we can make progress in returning people to their home country.

My hon. Friend said that surveillance equipment and resources provided to the French were not doing the job and were cosmetic, but far from it. We have provided significant surveillance equipment, including drones, night vision goggles and high-powered wharf lights, to enable the French to redouble their efforts on the beaches. It is important to reflect that the coastline is very long—120 km—and has many sandy beaches and small tracks that enable vehicular access.

The French disrupt about 40% of attempted crossings before they leave the beaches, which is absolutely where the disruption should be taking place; it should not be taking place in the middle of the channel, which is incredibly hazardous for the lifeboat crews, the Border Force cutters, the coastguard and the migrants themselves, who put themselves at incredible risk. We will continue to use our best endeavours to deny the crossings the opportunity to launch, because once they are mid-channel, it must be about preserving life. I do not want to see in the English channel repeats of the scenes in the Aegean, where people have lost their lives in significant numbers, so I make no apologies for making sure that the efforts in the channel are about rescue.