The deaths in the channel yesterday of decent citizens forced to believe that the risk was worth it, and the Afghan soldier who assisted UK and US special forces and presumably missed the cut in Kabul, being forced to such perils to reach a country which he had assisted, were beyond the pale.
Where there is a will, however, there will always be a way. From time immemorial, loopholes in any system will be exploited, and bettered in this case by criminal gangs that are merciless in their evil trade. Therefore, let us do the job properly and seal the borders to put an end to this tragic loss of life, or have a strategy that is appropriate to a humane United Kingdom. I recognise that the Government are in a bind on all this, but the targeting of traffickers is paramount. How many traffickers have been brought to justice here or in France—any? Why do we not de-risk the endangering of lives and have applicants processed at source? Are there any processing units in the regions from whence the flow of migrants comes? If not, can the Government consider this? If not, why? I take the point, made by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that those who are legitimate would at least then have a safe passage to the UK in the event of being successful.
I am curious to know how many of the boat people crossing the channel out of the total meet the ability-to-stay threshold. If the Minister does not have that figure to hand, will she kindly undertake to write and to place a copy of the letter in the Library?
While the suggestion that France could intervene more is to be encouraged, blaming France, with all the current negative issues that surround the relationship, is probably wide of the mark. To suggest that we patrol French beaches is unrealistic. The Government would not have it if the situation were reversed. It is also clear that it is incompatible with international law to return migrants in open seas. Will the Minister confirm this?
It is believed that many of the boats being used are bought in the UK, fitted with new outboards and taken to France in the back of a car. Is the Minister aware of this, and have Customs and the Border Force been alerted to it? I am informed that the Queen’s warehouse in Dover questions whether many of them must be kept as potential evidence, but the Home Secretary has had a stop placed on these disposals. Perhaps this might be reviewed to reinstate the practice that goods used in crime can be auctioned off and the proceeds given to a charity that can demonstrate a need for the craft for the benefit of the community. For example, the Maritime Volunteer Service is expanding its safety patrol coverage of harbours and waterways.
Now is the time to look at the human tragedy of this situation and call for international collaboration to break the business model of the traffickers, recognising the positive components to managed migration, but equally addressing the drivers of involuntary migration and creating more legal avenues to assessment procedures. A good place from which to review a long-term strategy is to assume that people would prefer not to leave their loved ones, homes and culture. From southern seas to closer to home, migration is a global phenomenon and requires an international strategy to address its economic, social and political causes.