07 Aug Migrants: UK has failed to cut numbers trying to cross Channel, but not through a lack of trying | UK News
Ten months ago Priti Patel said she wanted cases of migrant Channel crossings to be “an infrequent phenomenon” by spring this year.
By any measure, the home secretary has failed in that aim.
But it’s not necessarily through a lack of trying.
In January last year, the UK government agreed to pay for security and surveillance on the French side to stop people making the perilous journey.
In October, beach patrols and intelligence sharing were stepped up to try and disrupt the ruthless smuggling gangs behind many of the crossings.
Then last month, a new Franco-British “joint intelligence cell” was formed with both countries agreeing that boats in the Channel should be returned to France rather than the UK.
It’s perhaps ironic, given promises to “take back control” of borders, that any success the UK might have in stopping migrants arriving here depends largely on the willingness of France to play ball.
Put bluntly, if France doesn’t stop the boats leaving, there is only so much Britain can do to send them back.
Former Border Force officer Chris Hobbs said many of his old colleagues believe authorities on the continent are not stepping up to the plate.
“There is zero enthusiasm amongst front line French uniform police… their view appears to be if some wish to travel to the ‘end of the line,’ namely the UK, why should they be stopped?” he said.
It’s a sentiment that appears to have some traction in the Home Office, with Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeting today that the French need to “intercept” boats and take migrants back.
Patel was accused of fake news when she made similar comments last month, with the MP for Calais saying migrants are brought back to the French coast every day.
But, while the government ponders how to bolster border patrols and disrupt smuggling gangs, charities representing refugees say ministers are trying to solve the wrong problem.
They point to the low number of arrivals who end up being deported as evidence of genuine asylum seekers forced to risk their lives because of a shortage of legal routes into the country.
Bella Sankey, from Detention Action, said that “trying to make this route ‘unviable’ through greater enforcement is naive grandstanding and amounts to more of the same”.
Charities say no one will need to take to the sea if the global crises forcing people to flee is fixed and safe routes are provided to genuine refugees.
Government officials paint a different picture though, taking aim at a complex asylum system and “activist lawyers” who make it tough to return economic migrants after they have arrived in the UK.
They also acknowledge that UK patrols cannot just board migrant vessels and turn them around.
That means that if the often unseaworthy and overloaded boats make it into British waters, the duty to save life at sea means the vessels are taken to shore.
That is the sell that smuggling gangs pitch to the people fleeing persecution and poverty.
It’s a criminal industry taking advantage of desperation and desire that creates a problem proving near impossible for politicians to fix.