Over the last few weeks we have seen rising numbers of migrants making illegal crossings of the Channel from France and Belgium and landing on the Kent coast. Last week I met with the Immigration Minister Chris Philp to discuss what action the Home Office intends to take to stop these journeys, which not only compromise our border security, but also put lives at risk.
The migrants who are making these crossings have mostly come from the Middle East region, and principally from Syria, Iran or Iraq. They will have paid large sums to people traffickers to make the journey across Europe. Since the coronavirus restrictions have been in place, crossing the Channel by small craft as become one of the preferred methods of trying to enter the UK in order to claim asylum, as there are now far fewer flights and lorry journeys. The Government’s response to this problem is to use intelligence led policing working closely with the French forces to try and identify people trafficking gangs and their clients, before they get to the coast. However, for when they do, we also fund the continued deployment of police officers who are constantly patrolling the coast around Calais. In addition to this the Home Office funds surveillance at sea from its own vessels and working in close partnership with the coastguard and air sea rescue services. Drones are also now deployed to monitor activity on the French coast. People who are clearly planning an illegal crossing of the Channel are arrested when discovered, and those recovered in the water on the French side of the Channel are returned to the nearest port, as required under international maritime law.
One of the constant problems that has been encountered by the authorities is that the vessels used for the crossing are too small to be picked up by the radar systems that constantly sweep the Channel. Nevertheless, this is an issue that needs to be overcome as we must do all we can to stop these crossings and demonstrate to the migrants living in northern France that not only should they not endanger their lives in this way, but that it would be futile to try and do so. Migrants who have already arrived in the UK are returned if they cannot present a clear case for asylum. Also, once we have left the European Single Market at the end of this year, it will be easier to simply return migrants who have made illegal crossings, straight back to France.
On Thursday last week, along with Cllr Susan Carey, the Cabinet Member for Environment on Kent County Council, I visited the Household Waste Recycling Centre in New Romney. It was great to see the careful preparations that had been made for its re-opening last weekend. You now need to book a slot to visit any of the County Council’s recycling centres and you can find out more about this by visiting kent.gov.uk/waste
I was also pleased to visit Giles Barnard last week and the team at the Folkestone Community Hub based at the Three Hills sports centre. They have all done a brilliant job making vital home deliveries of food and medicines for vulnerable people who are unable to get out themselves. You can find out more about the community hubs working across the district at damiancollins.com/covid-19.