Extract from Debate at Westminster 8th June 2020

John Redwood, MP for Wokingham: Does [the govern-ment’s immigration policy] not also require tougher enforcement against the dreadful people traffickers who are making money out of making a mockery of our laws and undermining all that we stand for?

Chris Philp MP, Minister for Immigration at the Home Office: People trafficking and people smuggling is a shocking offence that causes untold human misery. Last year, Immigration Enforcement made 259 arrests in connection with people smuggling and secured 101 criminal convictions, but I would like to assure him that this is an area where we can, must and will go a great deal further.

Sally Ann Hart, MP for Hastings & Rye: What steps is [the Home Office] taking to stop migrants crossing the English Channel illegally?

Mr Philp: We should be absolutely clear that these crossings of the English Channel are extremely dangerous. They are crossing the busiest shipping lines in the world. They are facilitated by criminal gangs who are ruthlessly exploiting vulnerable people. The crossings are also entirely unnecessary because France is a safe country and it has a very well-established and functioning asylum system. We are working with our French counterparts around the clock, sharing intelligence between our National Crime Agency and the French authorities, to stop illegally facilitated crossings and to prevent on-the-beach embarkations. 

Dr Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East: It appears that French patrol boats are escorting these dangerously overloaded inflatables across the channel ​until they reach English waters—I should say UK waters—whereupon our patrol boats pick up the occupants and ferry them to our shores. I understand that this is because we have to save people who put themselves, and sometimes their families, at serious risk at sea, but how can we remove perverse incentives to behave in such a dangerous fashion?

Mr Philp: It is worth emphasising that where boats get into difficulties in French waters—for example, if their engine breaks down—the French will pick them up and take them back to France. We must, as my right hon. Friend says, be mindful of safety of life, but we are reviewing our operational practices in these areas, for the reasons he mentions. Half the attempted crossings are intercepted by the French on the beach. We have so far, since last January, returned 155 people who have crossed and we seek to return many more.

Ms Hart: Migration policy is a core aspect of our national sovereignty. Will my hon. Friend please confirm that the UK will have a fair immigration policy that welcomes people who come to the UK legally, irrespective of nationality or religion, and that we will take back control over illegal immigration?

Mr Philp: We granted asylum or protection to 20,000 people last year, one of the highest figures in Europe, and we welcomed 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the highest number of any country in Europe. Our legal migration methods are entirely fair. We should therefore be policing illegal migration routes with complete effectiveness, and the Home Secretary and I are determined to do that.

Giles Watling, MP for Clacton: “We know that the migrants, as they cross the channel, sometimes threaten the French navy that they will throw themselves or their children into the sea. 

Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover: New-born babies put at risk of hypothermia; toddlers stripped of their life jackets and dangled over the side to prevent interceptions; and pregnant women forced to board at gunpoint. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is humanitarian—as well as the right thing to do—to tackle and put a stop to ruthless criminal gangs, to return boats to France and to give her the legal powers that she needs to put a stop to these small boat crossings once and for all?

Priti Patel, Home Secretary: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She will know from the discussions that we had as recently as Friday the extent of the criminality, exposure and abuse undertaken by people traffickers, who are forcing mothers and children on to unseaworthy vessels, and the horrendous circumstances that they are put in. My hon. Friend the Immigration Minister earlier outlined the approach that the Government are taking to tackle these abuses, and to go after the criminals and the facilitators of this crime. We will not stop pursuing this policy until we absolutely break the pathway that these criminal gangs are using.

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