English channel warning: Criminal gangs preparing for big increase in migrant journeys

Dr Rakib Ehsan: ‘Left disappointed’ at Labour’s fight on migrant policy

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The Home Office and the Ministry of Defence are considering how they can use the “full range” of the Government’s capabilities to intercept the crossings. Last year more than 28,300 people made the journey with a record 1,185 arriving on Remembrance Day.

The dangers of the crossing and the vulnerability of migrants was laid bare on November 24 when at least 27 people died when their boat sank. It was reported that of approximately 6,000 people who crossed the Channel in small boats between January and June last year, 4,075 were suffering hypothermia.

Tom Pursglove, the minister for justice and tackling illegal migration, admitted that an increase in numbers is expected in the months ahead.

He said: “We expect to see increased attempts by criminal gangs to facilitate these dangerous and unnecessary Channel crossings as the weather and sea conditions improve. Our focus is on prevention, and our ongoing support to the French Government provides for additional police patrols, improved detection technology and strengthened border security infrastructure on the French side.

“And at home, we are overhauling our broken asylum system to ensure people smugglers cannot profit from this vile trade. We are exploring with Ministry of Defence partners how best we can use the full range of [the Government’s] capabilities to intercept and manage those that cross the Channel more effectively, safely and securely.”

Tim Naor Hilton of Refugee Action pressed for a different approach, saying: “People smugglers exist because the tiny proportion of refugees who want to claim asylum in the UK have no other option to get here. Ministers could kill off the business model of these criminal gangs if they stopped their futile focus on tough borders and instead created more routes for people to seek sanctuary here.”

Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, said Home Secretary Priti Patel had “utterly failed to get a grip on the small boats crisis,” adding: “It’s not even clear who is in charge – the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence. With the number of crossings set to increase again in the spring, time is running out for the government to get its act together.

“A Labour government would improve joint security and co-operation operations with France to clamp down on traffickers who sacrifice lives for profit.”

Mr Kinnock said Labour would prioritise negotiating a successor to the pre-Brexit “Dublin III” agreement. This allowed the UK to return some asylum seekers to EU member states without considering claims, while providing a legal route for reuniting separated family members in Britain.

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