12th August 2020
It is all too easy for the failed politicians of the far right to post social media footage of illegal migrants landing from rubber dinghies on the coast of East Kent and to then play the dog-whistle politics of “send them back” knowing full well that they will not have to take any responsibility for their inflammatory words and actions.
Those of us who have been elected to Parliament and most particularly those Home Office Ministers and the Prime Minister responsible for delivering on a pledge to control immigration know only too well that the United Kingdom has a duty to abide by international law and by the Law of the Sea. The latter lays down a clear duty to save lives that are at risk and this Member of Parliament will not subscribe to any knee-jerk policy that seeks to condemn children, women and men to unnecessary death at sea whether or not they are in part the authors of their own situations.
Let`s consider a few hard facts. There have, historically, been four illegal routes into the UK from overseas. The first has usually been by air on a visitor`s visa that is then overstayed. The second has also been by air on false or inadequate documents carelessly checked by the carrier. It is accepted that about seven thousand of these succeed each year while twenty thousand are intercepted and returned immediately. The third route has been via freight lorries making the sea voyage by ferry and the fourth and most recently popular has been the Channel-crossing by rubber dinghy, kayak or even raft.
Since Covid 19 the air routes have dwindled to zero and sparsely populated passenger facilities at the ferry terminals have made it much harder to stow away on vehicles. It is this combination that has led to the growth in the number of small craft trying to cross the busiest sea lane in the world like children running across a busy motorway. It offers no comfort to know that the total number of illegal immigrants arriving annually in the UK remains about as before although the inflatable boat passengers are more visible.
While it is felt, rightly, that the French authorities can and should do more to prevent these crossings using the resources that the UK is providing the fact is that some 1200 attempts have been intercepted by the gendarmerie since the start of the year along a 100 kilometre coastline that stretches from the West of Calais to the East of Dunkirk. The real solution, however, requires an agreement with the French that does not yet exist and never has to permit the return of those apprehended immediately to France and an agreement on the part of the EU and its border authority, Frontex, to insist that, as the law determines, those seeking to claim asylum should do so in the first safe haven that they reach and not in whatever country that they choose. As this column hits the stands our Immigration Minister, Chris Philp, will be in Paris seeking to instigate these agreements. He will not be pushing at an open door but the French will need to realise that it is in their interests as well as those of the UK to bring this traffic to an end. If the “Rubber Dinghy Route” becomes established as successful then the magnet-effect will probably turn the Nord Pas de Calais into the badlands of Europe.
For this is the territory of seriously organised crime. While some rich asylum seekers, mainly from Iraq and Iran, commission craft and engines brought in from, usually, Germany to make the `luxury` crossing those less fortunate from their refugee camps surrounding Sangatte are using boats stolen from insecure clubs, garages or front drives and risking life and limb often unaware of the real risks that they are taking. Most are, or have been, facilitated by people-traffickers who extort a high price for a journey that all too often ends up, if the crossing is successful, in modern slavery. So there needs to be a concerted pan-European effort to interdict the traffickers, disrupt the supply of boats and send out a clear message that this doorway has been shut and bolted. If we are to accept refugees, and we must continue to play our part, then it has to be from the camps and with the approval and under the auspices of the UNHCR and not via illegal trafficking.
Under the Dublin Convention we do have the right to return claimants that are proven to have already claimed asylum in another country, predominantly Italy, Spain, Germany and France. A planeload of these false claimants is scheduled to leave Britain this week and more will follow between now and September but you can bet your sweet life that the legal system will be played for all it is worth to try to prevent these deportations from taking place. The Government plans a Sovereign Borders Bill to help to plug some of the gaps but anyone who pretends that this is easy and that there is a `quick fix`, Including the `do something` hard right and those now advocating the use of cruise liners to house illegal immigrants, is baying at the moon. There is not.