Sky News this week identified gaps in Britain’s border defences.
As the number of small boats crossing the canal breaks new records and European countries prepare for a new wave of people fleeing Afghanistan, the issue is raising public awareness once again.
Ministers should now be able to deliver on their promise to take back control after Brexit. Why don’t some people feel it yet?
Home Secretary Priti Patel is leading the government’s response to the issue. No one questions her right-wing credentials, and interestingly enough, she has won plaudits across the political spectrum for her handling of the immigration aspects of the Afghanistan crisis.
Her answer to questions about British borders is the Citizenship and Borders Bill currently under discussion in the House of Commons. But does it answer the problems that cause so many outside Britain’s borders?
One area of concern is the Mediterranean as people flee countries like Tunisia, often with the help of people smugglers. Sky News’ Adam Parsons spoke to smugglers who act with impunityA little worried about the consequences.
Tom Tugendhat, Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told Sky News the answer is to send more Royal Navy ships to help in the Mediterranean.
“The great strength that we have with NATO allies around us is that our borders don’t start at Dover, they start at the southern tip of Italy and Greece – and working together and making sure that those borders are protected and strengthened is exactly what we have to do…but we need to do more.”
“It’s not about being nice to the Italians. It’s about defending ourselves more.”
The Citizenship and Borders Bill increases penalties for people smugglers in an attempt to tackle the problem.
Another problem is when migrants who have reached the European Union try to cross the Channel into Britain. Sky News Michel Clifford found that while the French authorities would stop anyone still on the ground Whoever seemed to try to cross the canal would not stop the boats as soon as they reached the water, even when it was under French control.
They blame international law, although many in Britain including MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee claim the French are interpreting this wrongly.
Tim Lawton, a Conservative member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the French interpretation was “completely wrong”.
He added: “We have evidence from international maritime lawyers – they have made clear that the French authorities have the power to intercept and return passengers on boats, but in fact have an obligation under international law – people on boats guilty of trying to enter the UK illegally and paying regulated wages.” A crime for facilitating that journey, which would give reasons for the French authorities to arrest people, and that’s just what would stop that horrible trade – people who pay people smugglers, very likely to be sent back… It could stop that miserable stone dead trade. “
Asked why the British government had not succeeded in convincing the French that they were wrong, he said: “It is all excuses, we have made it clear – the French claim that this is a different interpretation, this is wrong – as well as the ongoing domestic politics, they quarrel with those who run Calais and the federal government. All of them Trying to make each other’s problem.”
The Citizenship and Borders bill would represent a serious attempt to prevent illegal immigration, along with a new post-Brexit points-based entry system.
It will facilitate the return of some illegal asylum seekers more quickly, make some asylum seekers apply before they reach UK shores and give border officials powers to return boats in UK waters.
But this does not – and cannot – prevent Britain from being an attractive country for economic migrants and asylum seekers.
Alp Mohamed, head of Migration Control, said Britain would remain a country in which many would aspire to live, so more should be done to bring back illegal arrivals.
“Britain is an attractive country, and so are France and the United States – most people wanted to go to the United States first, we are part of a broader picture of fun, civilized, and prosperous countries.
“A lot of the people coming are young people who want a better life – we are part of the story, and we have to create the opportunity for many Afghans to come here.”
But he added that once we got here, many were treated generously with little chance of getting them back.
“One of the main reasons traffickers are able to sell Britain as a preferred destination is that after they get here there is very little chance of being returned – very few people who have applied for asylum and failed are actually being sent back.
“That’s a big factor, while they’re here, we’re taking care of us – hotels and detention centers that have been used – so these aren’t bad accommodations, there’s so little money for people to spend.
“Once you’re in the system you’re looking after – people see the incoming messages, they’re all designed to be very attractive.”