I have received the enclosed letter from the Immigration Minister about the situation in Calais and the Mediterranean:
Security of the UK border is our priority. Basing UK controls in France enables Border Force to stop illegal migrants before they reach our shores. Since 2010, this Government has invested millions of pounds in strengthening the security of our border in Calais and other key ports. The Home Secretary and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve set out a number of commitments in a joint declaration which was published on 20 September (I think he means 20 th August this year ed) to tackle problems at the port of Calais, including £12 million from the UK Government towards bolstering security and infrastructure.
Border Force uses an array of search techniques including sniffer dogs, carbon dioxide detectors, heartbeat monitors and scanners – as well as visual searches – to find well-hidden stowaways. Additionally, we have installed Passive Millimetric Wave (PMMW) scanner detention technology at Zeebrugge, to enable the port authorities to scan freight lorries for clandestine illegal entrants. When migrants are detected at our juxtaposed controls, they are passed to the French authorities for further action, which may include enforced return to their home country.
Additionally, through increased joint intelligence work with the French, we continue to target the organised crime gangs behind smuggling and people trafficking. A multi-agency UK Task Force was launched in February 2014, working with European and international colleagues to share intelligence and co-ordinate activity to tackle organised immigration crime groups.
There is also good collaboration, on the ground, between Border Force and the French Police aux Frontieres. Together, we are working on an action plan for:
• strengthening security further at the juxtaposed controls in Calais;
• active operational work against organised crime;
• stronger action within the EU, and during Italy’s EU Presidency for which migration is a central theme (this was I believe in 2014 ed);
• strengthening the Southern Mediterranean border; and
• how the UK and partners can tackle illegal migration upstream, particularly from the Horn of Africa and Maghreb.
The Immigration Act will also have a major impact on the Home Office’s work to secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws and continue to attract the brightest and the best to the UK. The Act puts the law firmly on the side of those who respect it, not those who break it, by:
• stopping migrants using public services to which they are not entitled;
• reducing the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK for the wrong reasons; and
• making it easier to remove people who should not be here.
The wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is not just a problem for Southern European countries; it is an issue that affects us all. Many of those trying to cross the Channel from Calais arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean. So we need to work together in Europe on a comprehensive plan that will tackle the root causes of this issue and stem the flow.
The UK is playing a leading role in pushing for action through the EU and the UN to tackle the causes of illegal immigration and the organised trafficking gangs behind it, as well as increasing support and protection for those who need it. It is action of this kind which offers the best hope of an effective response to the numbers of attempted crossings to Europe and the tragic loss of lives.
The UK sent HMS Bulwalk,(Bulwark ed) with helicopters and border patrol ships, as part of the international rescue effort. Since then tens of thousands of lives have been saved, around 5,000 by UK assets alone. HMS Bulwalk was withdrawn on 3 July for planned maintenance but the UK contribution will remain through HMS Enterprise, a Merlin helicopter and border patrol vessels.
We need to treat the causes of this problem, not just deal with its consequences. Tackling this issue in the long term can only be done with a comprehensive solution. That means helping the countries where these people come from to reduce the push factors; build stability and create livelihoods; and to go after the criminal gangs and trafficking networks profiting from this human misery.
We are establishing a dedicated law enforcement team to tackle the threat posed by illegal immigration from North Africa, in light of the surge in numbers crossing the Mediterranean. The 90-strong team will bring together officers from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and the CPS with the task of relentlessly pursuing and disrupting organised crime groups profiting from the people smuggling trade.
With a handful of Europol cells in Sicily and The Hague and the rest on standby in the UK to deploy to different areas in the region as required, they will exploit every opportunity at source, in transit countries and in Europe to bring the gangs’ criminal operations to an end. The UK is also a leading member of the ‘core group’ of EU Member States and African partners developing the EU’s ‘Khartoum Process’, focused on concrete actions to combat people smuggling and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa.
We also need a Government in Libya that we can work with to address this problem as the majority of people are travelling through that country. The UK is working with EU partners on what more can be done, but we are clear that it is essential that any measures taken do not increase the pull to the EU. As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said, we need to break the link between embarking in unseaworthy boats from North Africa and entering and remaining in the EU illegally. This form of illegal migrant funds organised crime and undermines fair access to our countries. That is why we welcome the decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 22 June to launch a military operation in the southern Mediterranean. The operation will seize smugglers’ vessels on the high seas and will disrupt smuggling networks and prevent further human tragedy.
More widely, to have a credible EU migrant policy and to free up resource to help those genuinely in need of our protection, we must remove the perception that getting on a boat will lead to automatic settlement in the EU. Until we do that numbers will continue to grow, criminals will get richer and public confidence will be damaged irreparably.
Wherever possible we should return the boats immediately whence they came. But if we cannot do that we must ensure that when they arrive on EU shores we stop, fingerprint, and screen migrants to control their movement and to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic migrants.
We must ensure that they cannot travel further than their point of arrival and must return them without delay to their country of origin. That means investing real effort in infrastructure and expertise at the most exposed borders. But is also requires the determination to make it happen, not least from those countries most affected.
It is also clear that we need to enhance efforts to help stabilise the countries from which migrants are travelling. This includes stepping up efforts to address conflict and instability as key drivers of migration, including in Syria. The UK is at the forefront of the international response to the crisis in Syria, committing £900 million in humanitarian assistance. Our support has reached hundreds of thousands of people across Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
We also support the EU’s proposals for sustainable protection in North and East Africa under EU Regional Development and Protection Programmes (RDPPs). RDPPs aim to improve the conditions for refugees seeking protection in their region of origin until they are able to return to their homes, and to help support their host communities. We are already participating in the Middle East RDPP, which is supporting a sustainable approach to protection for those who have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the Syrian crisis, and we have pledged €500,000 to that Programme. We support the proposals for new RDPPs in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. Enhanced, safer and more sustainable regional protection is key to protecting those in genuine need of refuge, and preventing further dangerous journeys to Europe.
We will continue to work with our EU, Mediterranean, and African partners more broadly to develop and implement actions in the region in order to reduce the number of those placing their lives in the hands of criminal facilitators and the resulting loss of life.
Rt Hon James Brokenshire