Mr Speaker, in recent months the UK has seen a completely unacceptable increase in illegal migration through small boat crossings from France to the UK.
This Government and the Home Secretary are working relentlessly to stop these crossings.
Illegal migration is not a new phenomenon. Every Government over the last 20 years and more has experienced migrants - often economic migrants - attempting to reach the UK through illegal means.
The majority of these crossings are facilitated by ruthless criminal gangs who make money from exploiting migrants who are desperate to come here. We are working with the National Crime Agency to go after those who profit from such misery. Already this year,24 people have been convicted and jailed for facilitating illegal immigration. In July, I joined a dawn raid on addresses across London which saw a further 11 people arrested for facilitating illegal immigration and £150,000 in cash, and some luxury cars, were seized, further such arrests are expected.
Mr Speaker, these crossings are highly dangerous, tragically last month, a 28-year-old Sudanese man, Abdulfatah Hamdallah, died in the water near Calais attempting this crossing. And this morning the RNLI has been out in the English Channel and has had to rescue at least 34 people and possibly more who were attempting this dangerous journey.
But these criminally facilitated journeys are not just dangerous, they are unnecessary as well. France, where these boats are launched, and other EU nations through which these migrants travel on their way to the Channel, are manifestly safe countries with fully functioning asylum systems.
Genuine refugees seeking only safety can and should claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach – there is no excuse to refuse to do so and instead travel illegally and dangerously to the UK. Those fleeing persecution have had many opportunities to claim asylum in the European countries they have passed through long before attempting this crossing.
Mr Speaker we are working closely with our French colleagues to prevent these crossings. This includes patrols of the beaches by French officers, some of whom we fund, surveillance and intelligence sharing. Over 3,000 crossing attempts were stopped this year alone by the French authorities, and approaching 50% of all crossing attempts are stopped on or near French beaches. Today alone French authorities prevented at least 84 people from attempting this crossing, thanks in significant part to the daily intelligence briefings provided by the National Crime Agency here in the United Kingdom. It serves both French and UK interests to work together to cut this route.
If this route is completely ended, migrants wishing to come to the UK will no longer need to travel to northern France in the first place. We are therefore urgently discussing with the French Government how our current plans can be strengthened and made truly comprehensive. We have already established in the last two months a Joint Intelligence Cell to ensure that intelligence about crossings is rapidly acted upon, and this morning’s interceptions on French soil are evidence of the success of that approach.
It is also essential to return people who make the crossings where we can, and we are currently working to return nearly 1,000 cases where migrants had previously claimed asylum in European countries and under the regulations legally should be returned there.
Last month my Rt. Hon Friend the Home Secretary announced the appointment of former Royal Marine Dan O`Mahoney as Clandestine Channel Threat Commander.
He will collaborate closely with the French to build on the joint work already underway.
Let me conclude by saying these crossings are dangerous, illegal and unnecessary, they should simply not be happening and this Government will not rest until we have taken the necessary steps to completely end these crossings.