Knowing of the great interest in this topic by many readers, I am today publishing the latest Ministerial update on this .
“The UK and French Governments have been working closely together to respond to the pressures caused by the growing number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean this year. The strike action by French port workers has recently exacerbated these pressures, temporarily closing the port of Calais and disrupting services by ferry operators and Eurotunnel. This had significant repercussions for the UK – in particular for lorry drivers, the travelling public and local residents in South East England. Although the strike action is now paused and the Port of Calais is open, the risk of further French strike action remains.
During the strike, Border Force, working with the French authorities, put in place well-tested contingency plans, reinforcing security and supporting traffic flow at the juxtaposed ports. All freight vehicles entering Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk underwent intensified screening using some of the best techniques and technologies in the world – including sniffer dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners – as well as visual searches to find and intercept stowaways. Over 8,000 attempts by illegal migrants were successfully stopped at the juxtaposed ports during the strike period, thanks to these joint efforts.
The strike affected the travelling public and local residents of Kent who suffered disruption due to traffic. The Home Secretary will be meeting colleagues from Kent to discuss this issue directly. It also had a huge impact on hauliers from all over the country – who were subjected to long delays and repeated attempts by illegal migrants to board their vehicles.
Support for hauliers
We are working with the British haulage industry to support our drivers, and I recently met representatives of the industry to discuss their concerns. We provide clear guidance on lorry security and an accreditation scheme for hauliers. However, as the vast majority of vehicles arriving in the UK are foreign registered, the bigger part of our challenge is international, which is why we have offered to host an international event to promote best practice in lorry security.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary announced the creation of a new secure zone at the port of Calais for UK-bound lorries. This will provide a secure waiting area for 230 vehicles – the equivalent of removing a two-and-a-half mile queue from the approaching road. As peak-time queues rarely exceed this length, it will transform protection for lorries and their drivers – removing them from the open road where they can become targets for migrants.
Bolstering security for all travellers
HM Government has been working closely with the French Government over a longer period to tackle with the broader situation in Calais. Earlier this month, the Home Secretary met the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, and agreed to strengthen that cooperation further and build on the Joint Declaration they made last September. Since then we have:
- committed to investing £12 million (of which £6 million has already been spent) to reinforce security at our juxtaposed ports in Northern France. This includes new fencing to secure the approaches to the port of Calais and joint work to improve traffic flow through the port and Border Force controls, so that more tourist vehicles can queue within the secure environment of the port. This work is due to be completed at the end of this month;
- funded a £2 million upgrade of detection technology; and boosted our dog searching capability by another £1 million; and
- provided funding for additional fencing to help secure approaches to the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles, where repeated incursions have taken place over the last few weeks. This work, which we announced last week, has already begun and is also due to finish by the end of this month.
In addition, we have made considerable progress in targeting criminal gangs in Calais through better intelligence sharing and increased collaboration between UK and French law enforcement agencies, and we are running joint communications campaigns to tackle myths about life in the UK. We continue to keep the situation under review and will assess whether further measures may be required.
Tackling the problem at source
The problems in Calais are clearly symptomatic of a wider issue that needs to be tackled at source and in transit countries. This was reflected in the recent European Council discussions attended by the Prime Minister. The Government is clear that we must break the link between people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean and achieving settlement in Europe. We must target and disrupt the organised criminal gangs who profit from this.
We are enhancing our work with European and African partners to tackle these callous criminal gangs and increase the support for genuine refugees in their regions of origin.
Recently, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a dedicated law enforcement team to tackle organised immigration crime in the Mediterranean. Around 90 officers will be deployed in the UK, the Mediterranean and Africa to pursue and disrupt organised crime groups. They will make use of every opportunity at source, in transit countries, and in Europe to smash the gangs’ criminal operations and better protect the UK and the vulnerable people they exploit.
Continuing our work to crack down on illegal immigration
And finally, whilst the UK should remain generous to those who need help, we must also continue to be tough on those who flout our immigration rules or abuse our hospitality as a nation.
Since 2010, the Government has introduced new laws to make it harder for people to live in the UK illegally – restricting their access to rented housing, bank accounts, driving licences and our public services. We have revoked the driving licences of 11,000 illegal immigrants, closed down nearly 900 bogus colleges, and carried out over 2900 sham marriage operations in the past year.
The new Immigration Bill that we will introduce later this year will build on this work and enable us to take even stronger action. It will include measures to make it even more difficult for people to live in the UK illegally, make it easier for us to deport them, and make Britain a less attractive place for people to come and work illegally – by making illegal working a criminal offence in itself.
The Government’s approach is clear: we are working closely with the French authorities to mitigate the consequences of irresponsible French strikers; continuing our close collaboration to bolster the security of the ports in Northern France; providing assistance to our hard-working hauliers and the travelling public; and leading the international efforts to tackle this problem in the longer term – with generous support for those who deserve it, and tough sanctions for those who do not.
The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP
Immigration Minister “