Urgent action needed over Channel migrant crisis, says Patel

Urgent action is needed to tackle the migrant crisis in the English Channel and plans are being drawn up “immediately”, the Home Secretary has said.

Priti Patel met French interior minister Christophe Castaner in Paris on Thursday and agreed to step up resources to intercept and stop the wave of crossings by migrants in small boats to the UK’s south coast, the Home Office said.

But the department refused to comment on a suggestion from the French government that the UK could put more money into efforts to curb the problem.

Priti Patel meets Christophe Castaner
Priti Patel meets Christophe Castaner (Zakaria Abdelkafi,/AP)

The “possibility of British financial support” was discussed at the meeting, according to reports from the French AFP news agency, quoting a statement from Mr Castaner.

Money from London would “reinforce patrols and improve effectiveness” of the three Border Force cutters stationed in the Channel, Mr Castaner was quoted as saying.

Earlier in the day he posted a tweet to say he was happy to discuss “new avenues of co-operation” with the UK.

Delighted to meet with my French Ministerial counterpart @CCastaner this afternoon where we agreed to intensify our joint work to tackle illegal immigration & stop the trafficking & exploitation of people. pic.twitter.com/d5QdOxcSCi

— Priti Patel MP (@patel4witham) August 29, 2019

The Home Office instead pledged tougher action and an “immediately drawn-up and enhanced plan” after a “concerning rise” in incidents.

UK teams will work with the French to gather more intelligence on organised people-smuggling gangs, according to the department’s announcement six hours after the meeting.

Press access to the meeting was restricted with requests for interviews or a press conference refused.

The Home Office declared the matter a major incident under former home secretary Sajid Javid and pledged millions of pounds to tackle the crisis, dispatching the three Border Force cutters.

Border Force cutter the HMC Vigilant arrives in Dover
Border Force cutter the HMC Vigilant arrives in Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A plan drawn up in January included a £6 million investment in security equipment, CCTV coverage of beaches and ports and a mutual commitment to return migrants under international and domestic laws, the department said.

But the number of migrants taken in by UK authorities so far this year is thought to have already passed 1,000.

More than 220 migrants, including at least 40 children, have been intercepted by UK and French authorities since Thursday last week.

The Home Secretary has faced calls from charities working with migrants to visit northern France to see the situation, while campaigners urged her to put dignity and welfare at the heart of any plans.

Earlier this week, Ms Patel reportedly tasked the Home Office with finding an urgent solution to the crossings.

Last week, UK and French authorities dealt with nearly 100 migrants, including 17 children, trying to cross the Channel in one day.

A group of men are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover
A group of men are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson prompted widespread criticism from campaigners as he warned illegal migrants they would be sent back if they risked crossing the Channel.

Some charities, lawyers and politicians branded his comments “inflammatory”, “unlawful” and “inhumane”, saying his claim would “violate international law”.

The UK has a legal obligation under what is known as the Dublin Regulation to ensure that asylum applications are examined and considered.

In the days after Mr Johnson’s comments it emerged that almost 40,000 failed asylum seekers remain in the UK, despite being targeted for removal.

David Wood, a former director general of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, told The Times that “in reality, the longer they stay the more difficult it is to remove them” as they build roots in the UK.

Separate figures showed the number of people offered asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection by the UK has risen to 18,519 – the highest since 2003 and a 29% increase on the previous year.

In the last week, the body of a migrant believed to have died while attempting to swim across the Channel was reportedly found near a Belgian port, with flippers and a life jacket made of plastic water bottles.

Ms Patel said in a statement she was doing “everything in my power” to stop the crossings, adding: “We’ve been working extremely closely with our French colleagues to tackle the use of small boats but we both agreed more needs to be done.

“It’s vital we ensure our collective expertise is used to stop the boats from leaving French shores and dismantle the criminal networks driving this activity.”

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