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Calais: Illegal Immigrants

Volume 757: debated on Thursday 27 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they are giving to British lorry drivers at Calais to deter illegal immigrants from attempting to board their lorries.

My Lords, the Home Office publishes guidance advising hauliers on vehicle security and what they should do if they believe that somebody is hiding in their vehicle. The guidance is available on the GOV.UK website and includes contact details for the Border Force’s clandestine entrant civil penalty team, from which hauliers are also receiving direct advice.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am pleased that the Government have now made arrangements for new fencing, paid for by the Government, and for rearranging the border controls, which should help in a modest way, because lorry drivers are having a very difficult time at the moment. With, apparently, more than 2,000 people trying to come in as illegal immigrants at the moment, what discussions are we having with the French Government to try to find a long-term solution to this problem?

In many ways, the juxtaposed operation which takes place in Calais and Dunkirk and at the tunnel entrance is part of that ongoing discussion. That has been a huge success in providing a triple-layered level of security for vehicles to go through, and it has already seen 18,000 clandestine migrants identified on the French side of the channel in the past year.

Is the Minister satisfied with the manner in which the French police and other authorities are carrying out their job? Does he feel that they are really interested in the problem? My experience of dealing with the French in the commercial world, with the greatest respect, is that they think, “It is not our problem”. One wonders whether they want to get rid of these people as quickly as possible. Is there a case for putting some of our people there to invigilate?

The noble Lord is absolutely right in the sense that that is exactly what the juxtaposed operation in Calais and Dunkirk is doing. We have Border Force people on the ground augmenting the work done by the port-side authorities. In addition, we have sniffer dogs on the port side, as well as the fencing which we are introducing. That co-operation is there; we should like it to be extended.

My Lords, does the Minister understand and perhaps share the concern felt by many interested observers who have followed the situation for many years and believe that it is capable of much better resolution? If he shares that concern, what does he think is the major impediment preventing a lesser threat to drivers and greater safety for these tragic migrants?

I acknowledge the noble Lord’s great experience in this area. From my preparation for this Question, I think that if the simple task of securing the vehicle—ensuring that it is covered and padlocked—happened, the problem would be reduced dramatically. Basic security measures and education of drivers are critical, as is maintaining the maximum £2,000 civil penalty fine if they fail to do that and migrants come into this country.

My Lords, these are desperate people looking for a better life, but clearly we have to maintain the integrity of our immigration policy. When people arrive, how much time is taken to sift those who have a proper claim for refugee status and those who are simply economic refugees?

If they are stopped at the French border, that is an issue for the French. If they arrive in the UK, they have the opportunity to apply for asylum. The asylum regime is there and advice is available to them. I must say that in a lot of these cases—this backs up the claim made by the noble Lord—they actually want to be put back in France so that they can try again, because they want to get into this country to work illegally.

My Lords, the Minister will know that at the port of Calais there is very sophisticated X-ray equipment that can see whether there are people hiding inside containers. Can he tell us what proportion of lorries are monitored with that equipment, or is it just a random selection, with only a small proportion being vetted in that way?

All vehicles have to go through that level of vetting, which is carried out by the Border Force using the latest technology for sensing whether there are people in the vehicle. That is a strong safeguard.

My Lords, the noble Lord is talking about lorries but is he aware that desperate migrants will get access to any vehicle in order to seek a better life? Many people travelling to France in their cars for the weekend to do some shopping are being advised in Calais not to leave their cars empty, even to go into a shop or to have lunch. What advice has the Minister given to domestic travellers to Calais, and does he think that we have enough border staff, given the cuts imposed by the Government?

The Border Force has been reformed. We now have a stronger border agency and the toughest border regime in the world. We have 200 million people crossing into the country. The reality is that domestic tourists and other travellers there should be aware that this is a major problem and that it is only going to get worse. They have to use the same level of security to protect their vehicles.

Can the Minister explain why these people arrive here? Surely they have been in France. Are they fleeing from persecution in France? What is wrong with the French state that it does not accept its obligation to look after such people?

My noble friend raises a profound issue, which is that there is a difference in economic performance among countries across Europe. The fact that unemployment in this country is falling dramatically and the economy is growing, and that the opposite is so in France, is acting as a pull factor into this country.