Thank you for contacting me about the trafficking of migrants across the English Channel by criminal gangs.
The number of small boats crossing the Channel is unacceptable. The Home Secretary has said that we must make this route unviable in order to secure a long-term solution to the issue.
I am aware of reports in the media regarding the use of offshore facilities. I am glad that Ministers are assessing every option aimed at ending the Channel crossings and fixing the asylum system. It is imperative that lives are not put at risk by ruthless criminal gangs. The UK has a proud history and strong track record of offering a home to those in need of protection. I will continue to follow developments in this area and will press the Government to reform the system to ensure the UK provides protection while also preventing abuse and associated criminality.
The National Crime Agency, Border Force and the Police have been engaging closely with the French authorities to crack down on the criminal gangs who facilitate these crossings. Firm action is needed to protect our border and save the lives of migrants who are being so cruelly misled by criminals and people smugglers.
The Home Secretary has outlined a two-part plan to stop the entry of migrants to the UK across the Channel. I welcome the work taking place to stop the boats from leaving France in the first place. Ministers are urging the French authorities to move migrants who are caught attempting to reach the UK by boat away from Calais and the UK is funding patrols on the beaches of northern France to prevent migrants crossing in the first place. The second part of the plan is to intercept and return anyone who attempts to make a crossing. I understand that the Government has asked the French to consider interceptions at sea and has offered to work with the authorities in France on joint exercises to highlight how boats can be returned safely.
Once the occupants of the boats arrive on our shores, they do not automatically receive the right to remain in the UK. France is a safe country with an established asylum system. Those coming across the Channel should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.
If the occupants of small boats are intercepted by the Border Force or Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) they are medically assessed and transferred for interview by immigration enforcement officers. At this point they may make a claim for asylum and will be processed in the usual way. However, if an individual is known to have made a claim in another country the Home Office will look at the process of returning them as promptly as possible.
Measures are in place specifically to deal with Coronavirus and those crossing the Channel by small boat. Since the Government introduced quarantine measures in June, those who have come to the UK by small boat have been placed in facilities where they must self-isolate for 14 days. You may also be reassured to know that anyone who is symptomatic will be taken to designated accommodation and tested according to Public Health England guidance.
Many people feel that the current asylum regime is open to abuse. Until the UK leaves the transition period with the EU later this year, there are limits to the action that can be taken on the current asylum system. The system as it stands is inflexible and rigid.
I do appreciate the frustration felt by many across the country regarding the vexatious claims in the asylum system.
The Government is developing a new, balanced and fair asylum system. The key elements will be to ensure that it is protected from abuse while providing protection to the most vulnerable people who need our help.
Safe Routes: The UK continues to be one of the world’s leading refugee resettlement states. As a country, we resettle more refugees than any other in Europe and are in the top five countries worldwide. Since 2015, the Government has resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection through our refugee resettlement schemes, with around half being children.
In the year ending March 2020, over 7,400 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. This is 37 per cent more than in the previous year.
Small Boats Commander: I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has appointed a Clandestine Channel Threat Commander to help lead the UK’s response to Channel crossings. Together the Home Secretary and Dan O’Mahoney will have the primary responsibility of making the Channel route unviable for small boat crossings. I am pleased that the Government has appointed an individual with such a wide range of experiences, including service in the Royal Marines.
The Government is taking firm action to stop these crossings. The Government needs to to continue to act fast to make this route unviable and end the cruel and dangerous people smuggling between France and the UK.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP