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Cross-Channel Illegal Migration

Volume 681: debated on Monday 28 September 2020

The Government are committed to ending completely these dangerous crossings facilitated by ruthless criminals. These crossings are also unnecessary because France is a safe country. Our clandestine channel threat commander, newly appointed, is working closely with his French colleagues to stop these embarkations in the first place, and we are also working tirelessly to return people who have made this journey.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Can he say when legislation will be brought forward to update immigration and asylum law, and whether it will contain provisions such as stopping those who enter the United Kingdom illegally subsequently applying to stay in this country?

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the legal system. It is quite frankly not fit for purpose in this area when it comes to asylum and immigration enforcement matters. We are often frustrated by repeatedly vexatious legal claims, often made at the last minute with the express intention of frustrating the proper application of the law. I can confirm that we are working at pace on legislative options in the way that he describes, and that everything is on the table.

My constituents in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton are rightly angry at the images that they are seeing of people arriving on our shores illegally, often in small boats. To solve this crisis in the long term will require co-operation, and, whereas we in this country seem to be gold-plating a lot of the regulations that would enable us to solve this problem, many of our European partners are not. What representations is my hon. Friend making to our European partners to ensure that they actually follow through with the obligations that they have made?

We are working at the moment with other European countries to return people to those European countries where they have previously claimed asylum. Indeed, return flights went last week and are going this week as well. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that leaving the Dublin regulations creates new opportunities. We have already tabled a draft readmissions agreement for consideration by the European Commission, but he can rest assured that once we are out of the transition period on 1 January, this Government will be redoubling their efforts to make sure that people who come here from safe countries, for example, are rapidly returned.

I know the Minister is working tirelessly to bring the criminals facilitating the illegal channel crossings to justice and to tackle this exploitative crime. Does he agree that, while we must uphold our obligations to genuine asylum seekers, there can be no justifiable reason for migrants to be crossing the channel, putting themselves and our Border Force at risk when France remains a safe option?

My hon. Friend puts it very well. We are pursuing the ruthless criminals who facilitate this wicked process. Twenty-four of them have been convicted so far this year. He is right to say that, where people are in genuine fear of persecution, we should protect them. Indeed, we do so and our resettlement scheme has been the leading scheme in Europe over the past five years. He is also right to say that, when people are in France, they are already in a safe country and if they want protection they can obtain it by applying to the French Government.

The channel-crossing route is clearly being promoted by people smugglers as an easy route in. These individuals do not give a damn about the welfare of those whom they exploit or the lives that they put in danger. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that this route becomes entirely untenable and illustrates loud and clear to organised crime gangs that Britain’s border is closed to such illegal crossings?

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that our objective, and the Home Secretary’s objective, is to make this route completely unviable, so that nobody attempts it in the first place. It is dangerous, it is illegally facilitated and it is unnecessary. We are working with the French to prevent the embarkations happening in the first place. We are looking at tactics that we can deploy at sea to prevent the crossings from happening, and we are looking at what more we can do to return people once they make the crossing. Those measures, taken together, will make this route unviable and end these crossings.

People across Stoke-on-Trent are extremely concerned about the number of people we are seeing crossing the English channel illegally. Does my hon. Friend agree that asylum should be claimed in the first safe country and that we should deport those here illegally?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. France is a safe country and, as I said, people who wish to claim protection from persecution when they are in northern France should do so by claiming asylum in France. There is no need at all to attempt this dangerous and illegally facilitated crossing. When people do make the crossing, we are using all the legal means available to us to ensure that they are returned—for example, to countries where they previously claimed asylum under the Dublin regulation—and flights doing that took place last week and will take place this week.