Migrants crossing English Channel should be returned to France, say Tory MPs

Conservative MP for Dover demands French authorities ‘stop small boats leaving’

Adam Forrest
Thursday 03 June 2021 16:07 BST
<p>A man is brought in to Dover by Border Force officials on 3 June</p>

A man is brought in to Dover by Border Force officials on 3 June

Conservative MPs have called on France to accept back migrants who have come across the English Channel in small boats once they have been intercepted by British officials.

Another 157 people were met mid-Channel by the UK Border Force and brought to shore in Dover on Wednesday, amid good weather and smooth sea conditions.

The number of migrants crossing the Channel has more than doubled year on year – despite Home Secretary Priti Patel’s vow to make the route “unviable”.

Tory MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke demanded “urgent action” to stop dangerous Channel crossings from taking place.

She said: “That means tackling the criminal gangs at source, doing more to stop the small boats leaving France in the first place, turning them round in the Channel, and swiftly returning people who have entered the country through an illegal route of entry.”

The latest government figures show more than 850 people have completed the journey across the Channel in small boats over the past six days.

More than 4,000 people have crossed the Channel so far this year – more than double the total at the same point last year of around 1,700 people.

Tory MP Damian Collins, who represents Folkestone and Hythe, has previously shared his own frustration with the “shamefully high” number of crossings.

He has called for an agreement with the French government so that UK officials “either intercept vessels making illegal crossings earlier in their journeys and take them back to France, or we return them to that country once they have been detained in England”.

There is currently no agreement allowing British authorities to use their vessels in French territorial waters to take small boats back to France.

Ex-Border Force chief Kevin Saunders said the French authorities were not doing enough to stop small boats leaving French territorial waters. 

Migrants brought into Dover by Border Force officials on 3 June

“The answer for this is the Gendarmerie Maritime, the French navy, to stop boats leaving France,” Mr Saunders told LBC radio on Thursday.

Ms Patel has said she wants to change the law to make it easier to deport illegal migrants and block asylum claims from those who are deemed to have enter “illegally”.

But last month The Independent revealed that since the end of a Brexit transition period, no asylum seekers have been deported to EU countries they passed through on their way to the UK.

The government has claimed it will negotiate bilateral agreements to replace a Europe-wide mechanism that the UK now left – but several EU nations have said they have no intention of striking such deals.

Migrants brought into Dover by Border Force officials on 3 June

Charities and immigration experts have argued the divide between “legal” and “illegal” journeys is an artificial one – claiming asylum seekers have no choice but to attempt dangerous boat journeys because of the lack of safe, agreed routes.

A Home Office spokesman said: “More than 3,500 people have been prevented from making the dangerous crossing so far this year and we are cracking down on the despicable criminal gangs behind people smuggling. Inaction is not an option whilst people are dying.”

The spokesman added: “The government is bringing legislation forward through our new plan for immigration which will break the business model of these heinous people smuggling networks and save lives.”

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