Last weekend we saw the largest number of migrants, in a single day, complete an illegal crossing of the English Channel. One hundred and eighty people arrived on the Kent coast, but a further two hundred were detained by the French police whilst attempting to make the crossing. It is not acceptable for this situation to be allowed to continue. These Channel crossings are highly dangerous and it’s miraculous that more lives haven’t been lost trying to make these journeys. Also, from a border security perspective we cannot allow a situation where hundreds of people can enter the country illegally.
The best way to stop the crossings is before the small craft carrying the migrants enter the water. That’s why the UK Government is working with the French police to fund increased patrolling of the French coast. We have also helped to provide improved security at the Port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel entrance. However, once the vessels are at sea the French authorities will rescue them if they are in distress, but they will not remove them from the water unless they ask for help. The UK authorities are not allowed to use their vessels in French waters, and once the migrant boats enter our territorial waters, it is required under maritime law that they are taken to the nearest safe port, which would be Dover. We need to agree a scheme with the French Government that we either intercept vessels making illegal crossings earlier in their journeys and take them back to France, or we return them to that country once they have been detained in England. This would clearly demonstrate that attempting to make these crossings is futile, and people should not spend large amounts of money with gangs of people traffickers in the belief that this is a way in which they can enter this country in order to claim asylum.
Many of the migrants making these crossings started their journeys fleeing countries like Iran, and the war zone in Iraq and Syria. The Government has helped to support United Nations-run refugee centres close to those regions, and it would be much better for people to seek support there, rather than travelling independently across Europe. Refugees in these UN centres can make asylum claims and decisions can be taken about the most appropriate country for them to start a new life.
Year six students at Martello Primary School in Folkestone had been due to make an end-of-term visit to Parliament this month, but as a result of the coronavirus pandemic all tours and educational trips to the House of Commons have been cancelled. It is hoped that they will resume though in the autumn. However, last Friday I was delighted to be able to join the year six class for an online question and answer session online on Zoom. They asked a great range of questions about my work as MP for Folkestone and Hythe and the impact of the coronavirus. I hope they all get the chance to visit Parliament in the near future.