This week the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced that the Royal Navy would be deployed in the Channel, and RAF planes used to increase and improve monitoring of migrant boats seeking to reach the UK from the French coast. The fine weather and calm seas of the last few days have led to an increase in the number of small crafts seeking to make this crossing, highlighting again the need for a solution to this problem, and to close down this route. Whatever your views on this issue, I believe it is wrong that a false incentive should be created that encourages migrants to make these dangerous crossings, including with young children, in the hope of reaching the UK. Although, even at current levels, only about one in ten people seeking asylum in the UK will have reached our country in this way, it cannot be right from a border security perspective to allow undocumented people to freely enter the country in this way.
Our police and border force are working with the French authorities to stop and intercept people trying to make these crossings. Even on days when the number of boats in the water has been high, half have been stopped before they entered it. The challenge we face now is what to do about these small boats when at sea on the French side of the channel. The French authorities will only intervene if the boats require rescuing, and once they have crossed to the UK side of the channel, under international maritime law they must be taken to the nearest safe port, which would then be Dover. In order to stop these crossings, we need an agreement with the government in France that any passengers on migrant boats in the channel will be returned to France where their asylum claim will be processed. This will demonstrate that attempting to make these crossings is not only dangerous, but futile as it will not lead to a successful asylum claim in the UK.
Many people rightly make the point that the migrants making these crossings are genuinely escaping from war zones like Syria, where their lives have been in danger. We accept the genuine claims, particularly for refugees from the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, and those who face persecution from the regime in Iran. However, it is better for people to seek help from the UN refugee centres in safe locations closer to those conflicts, and which the UK government supports, than to put their lives in the hands of dangerous people trafficking gangs, in the hope of reaching countries like the UK directly.
Last weekend I was disturbed to read reports about a large gathering on the beach at Greatstone. No permission had been granted for this event, which caused considerable disturbance for local residents as well as being organised in clear breech of the government’s COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. I have been in touch with Kent Police who confirmed they are investigating this incident, and that they have increased patrolling along our area of the coast to provide an early warning, and intervention against, any such events in the future.