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‘Her incompetence on this issue is dangerous’: Home sec’s handling of migrant crisis attacked by Labour

Written by on 21/11/2021

Labour has accused Priti Patel of “comprehensively failing” on the issue of migrant crossings in the Channel after a record number of people arrived on British shores in small boats last week.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday that his counterpart’s “incompetence on this issue is dangerous”.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid defended the home secretary’s work on the matter – despite the surge in the number of crossings – telling Sky News the government has “a great track record” of providing security protection to “those people who are genuinely fleeing persecution”.

French police officers patrol the beaches in Wimereux near Calais as migrants continue to launch small boats along the coastline in a bid to cross the Channel towards the UK. Picture date: Thursday November 18, 2021.
Image: Sajid Javid said it is ‘right to change the rules’ to ensure those arriving on UK shores are ‘genuine asylum seekers’

Mr Javid added: “We do have to ask ourselves, if people are trying to get into the UK from safe countries like France, are they genuine asylum seekers or not?

“And it is right to ask that and it is right to change the rules to take that into account, and that is what the home secretary is doing.”

Last Thursday, 1,185 individuals arrived in the UK – a new record for a single day in the current wave – with a total of more than 24,700 people having reached the island using small boats to cross the Channel so far this year, according to data compiled by the PA news agency.

In recent weeks, at least two people have died while trying to attempt the perilous journey, and several more have been feared to be lost at sea.

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The government has announced that a review will look at how to stop migrants crossing the English Channel and entering the UK amid concern that current measures are not working.

Downing Street has tasked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Stephen Barclay with bringing departments together to find a solution.

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More than 24,700 people have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel, almost three times the number in 2020.

Mr Thomas-Symonds told Sky News that a Labour government would reintroduce deals with other countries to relocate migrants back to the first safe country they arrived in.

But speaking during a visit to Washington for talks with her US counterpart earlier this week, the home secretary said the “problem” of illegal migration is down to the EU’s open borders.

Ms Patel said the Schengen agreement – which allows passport-free travel across European borders in the so-called Schengen zone – has left France “overwhelmed” with migrants trying to reach the UK across the Channel.

The home secretary added that the EU has “no border protections whatsoever” which has led to a “mass migration crisis”.

Speaking to MPs on Wednesday, Tom Pursglove, a minister for both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, disclosed that just five migrants who crossed the Channel by boat to the UK have been returned to Europe so far this year.

A newly arrived migrant is seen on board a bus in Dover harbour after crossing the channel in Dover, Britain, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Image: Home Secretary Priti Patel has said the ‘problem’ of migration is down to the EU having ‘no border protections whatsoever’

One former head of the Border Force, Tony Smith, told Sky News that the government was very reliant on France to stop crossings.

“If the French won’t intervene at sea or take returns, I don’t think there is much room for manoeuvre,” Mr Smith said.

“Returning to other source and transit countries may be an option but we will need readmission agreements.”

One option being considered would involve opening processing centres in third countries where migrants would be taken while their asylum claims are looked at.

Australia has controversially used offshore processing for asylum seekers for over 40 years.

The Times newspaper reported on Thursday that the UK was in talks with Albania over locating facilities in the country.

That was angrily rejected by the Albanian ambassador to London, who said such centres would violate international law.

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Correspondent Adam Parsons speaks to migrants in Dunkirk, many of whom have attempted to try and reach the UK.

The European country is the latest destination the government has considered using as a base for an asylum processing centre.

In September last year, a Home Office source said the government was looking at the idea of “offshoring people” and it was understood that the Foreign Office carried out an assessment for Ascension Island – a remote UK territory more than 4,000 miles away.

The government reportedly looked at the practicalities of such an arrangement and decided not to proceed.

At the time, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive – so it seems entirely plausible this Tory government came up with it.”

St Helena, in the South Atlantic, is also said to have previously been considered by the government.

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In July, Home Secretary Priti Patel signed a £54m deal with France to tackle crossings but UK sources admit that policing more than 90 miles of coastline is difficult.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Migrants making these dangerous crossings are putting their lives at risk and it is vital we do everything we can to prevent them and break the business model of the criminal gangs exploiting people.

“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in, and as part of our response it is important we have a maritime deterrent in the channel and work with international partners to put an end to these dangerous journeys.”

 Sky News

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