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Migration (Africa to the EU)

Volume 608: debated on Monday 11 April 2016

We are working closely with European and African partners to address illegal migration to the European Union. November’s Valletta summit created a coherent framework and road map for action. As current chair of the Khartoum process, the Government take a leading role in driving forward projects to combat people smuggling and trafficking from Africa, focusing on capacity building, training and communications.

Just before Easter weekend, 52 suspected migrants, many of north African descent, were held after two lorries were stopped at the Dartford crossing and in Canterbury. Given that Kent is on the front line of these desperate attempts, can my right hon. Friend outline what additional support can be provided to our region’s police and border guards to prevent these clandestine actions?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I recognise the role that Kent plays in these matters, being on the front line, as she says. There is a dedicated unit in Kent and specialist debriefers to support the police to gather further intelligence to deal with this vile trade, but importantly, of course, we want to stop people from arriving in the UK clandestinely. That is where the work we are doing, particularly with the French Government, on improved security at the juxtaposed controls in Calais and elsewhere on the continent is important, as is the work of the National Crime Agency, Immigration Enforcement and, in particular, the border crime command in dealing with partners across Europe and in Africa to break the criminal gangs and to stop trafficking and people smuggling taking place.

The deal with Turkey was brokered after intense negotiations, which seem to be lacking in respect of north Africa. I hear what the Home Secretary says about the Khartoum process, but the numbers coming from north Africa to Italy have increased by 80% over the last year, and only last night President Obama said that Libya was the worst mistake of his presidency. Italy faces a summer of crisis. Does the Home Secretary agree that one way to stem this is to enable international boats to enter Libyan coastal waters to intercept those criminal gangs and stop them duping innocent people into putting their lives at risk?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to look carefully at what is happening and at what happened last summer for people coming through Libya into Italy, primarily through Lampedusa, but also, now that the spring and summer months are upon us and the weather is better, at what could happen again. It is not just about boats entering Libyan waters—the United Nations has discussed the action that can be taken in relation to these matters. It is also about working upstream. It is about working with the source countries to ensure that people have less incentive to be moving away—that is where our development aid work is particularly important—and also about working with transit countries to break the model of the smugglers and people traffickers, so that people see that making this dangerous journey does not enable them to settle in Europe.

The Home Secretary may remember that at our last Question Time when we discussed this, I asked a specific question about whether we were searching all lorries, and she told me I had misunderstood the situation. I am not sure I have, because we now read that only half the lorries are being searched. Many people are stowing away in lorries; they are arriving here, and they are never sent back. It is making a mockery of our immigration rules, so will she give a direct answer to a direct question: will all lorries now be searched at Calais?

I apologise to my hon. Friend if there was any misunderstanding in the answer that I gave last time round. We do search lorries at the juxtaposed controls. The point of having the juxtaposed controls is that it enables us to do more, but it is a question of using various techniques to try to ensure that we can identify clandestines who may be aboard lorries. One of the challenges we face is that, because of the extra security measures we have taken, particularly at Calais and Coquelles, it is obviously much harder for people to get on lorries at those places. We are now having to work with the French Government—it is not just about searching lorries; it is about working upstream as well—to try to identify places further afield where people may be trying to get on the lorries, so that we can catch them at that stage, rather than relying on searches or techniques that are used at the border.

The Home Secretary will be aware that organisations such as UNICEF and Save the Children are urging the British Government to do much more to help vulnerable refugees and especially unaccompanied children. She has mentioned the people traffickers and stopping the organised gangs, but there is a very real risk of child sexual exploitation with these vulnerable children travelling across to Europe, so what more are she and the Government doing to make sure this problem is tackled?

We are very conscious of the issues that could arise concerning children, particularly children who are being trafficked and exploited in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. That is why the expertise of the independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, is being used. He has already had discussions with people in Calais and he will visit hotspots elsewhere in Europe in the coming weeks to ensure that he can help to identify these issues and share his expertise so that others can identify those who might be exploited or trafficked.