I’ve recently received several emails from constituents about the recent rise of illegal Channel crossings by migrants and I wanted to provide you with as full an explanation as possible of the Government’s approach to tackling this problem.
Protecting UK borders is a priority for this Government, and I think it’s completely unacceptable to see the rise of criminal gangs using false promises to take advantage of desperate situations and illegally smuggle people into the UK. We are determined to stop this criminal trade and stop these dangerous crossings. The rise we are seeing in illegal boat crossings is primarily because so many of the other routes normally taken by illegal migrants have been closed down. Following the tragedy in Purfleet in last year, where 39 Vietnamese people were found dead, the Home Office up-scaled border security, including the opening up of lorries. This action has reduced the number of illegal migrants through this route, but criminal gangs are now exploiting different methodologies, including boat crossings.
The best way to crack down on these crossings is to stop the small boats that carry migrants from ever leaving European shores. The Government is continuing to support the French to deploy extra patrols on French beaches, drones, specialist vehicles and detection equipment to stop boats leaving European shores. French police have also stepped up their response to provide 24/7 cover of the northern beaches, ensuring more detections and interceptions before boats are able to leave. The Home Office is also making sure that Border Force have the resources needed to tackle these dangerous crossings and keep our border secure.
Of course, I remain committed to an immigration policy which welcomes people to the UK through safe and legal routes. However, I believe all illegal immigration should be deterred and prevented, especially when it endangers people’s lives.
Since January 2019, 111 people smugglers have been convicted and imprisoned, including those behind small boat crossings, and work is constantly underway to bring other perpetrators to justice. Enforcement agencies including the National Crime Agency are working round the clock to dismantle the criminal networks that are facilitating these illegal crossings, gambling with lives for their own personal gain. Last year 418 arrests were made which led to 203 convictions totalling 437 years imprisonment.
In regards to the Britannia Hotel in Bromsgrove - which has been housing immigrants throughout the outbreak of Coronavirus - I know that Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove, has been on top of this issue. He has been in touch with Serco Group, the company responsible for their accommodation under contract with the Home Office. He also notes how the reaction from the local community has been extremely understanding.
To better explain why immigrants were placed in hotels at this time, during lockdown asylum seekers were prohibited from moving through and exiting asylum accommodation. At the same time, there continues to be relatively high numbers of new asylum claims being submitted. The normal Initial Accommodation that Serco provide was at maximum capacity, so hotels were used as Covid contingency sites to accommodate new asylum claimants – until movement through and out of the asylum system could restart safely.
I’m sure that my constituents can appreciate why the outbreak of Coronavirus has resulted in a temporary change in how asylum claims are dealt with nationally. I have been informed by the West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership that there are 5 hotels being used across the West Midlands, but no hotels are being utilised in Droitwich for the partnership. I want to reassure constituents that Serco is working closely with the Police and local authorities to keep local residents safe and have increased their staff on site to ensure all service users are aware of the guidelines on social distancing.
As I’m sure you’re aware, illegal immigration is a hugely complex issue and it takes more than just one approach. We have to look beyond our borders to try and discourage migrants from making these perilous journeys in the first place and we continue to work abroad, supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people in places like Syria, Afghanistan and East Africa.
I hope the above reassures you that the Home Office and the Government are working tirelessly to bring criminals to justice, and put a stop to these illegal crossings but of course, it is not a simple problem.