The migrant crisis in the English Channel escalated yet again over Christmas and New Year, with dozens more arriving along the Kent coast.
Here at the Dover frontline, we have been fighting hard over the past few months for Ministers to take action. In November in the House of Commons, I called on the Prime Minister to tackle the traffickers and boost our border security by increasing patrols. I'm pleased to see that our campaign is now making a difference.
Firstly, the Home Secretary acknowledged this is a major incident and appointed a Gold Commander. He then listened to our calls to return the UK's two cutters back from cruising in the Mediterranean to patrol the English Channel and take back control of our borders.
I was delighted Sajid Javid also accepted my invitation to visit Dover. He was able to see how our heroic lifeboat crews, Border Force and emergency services work tirelessly along our coast to protect the border and keep people safe.
Meanwhile, the National Crime Agency have recently made arrests in connection to the smuggling network allegedly behind the recent spike in crossings. And the deployment of HMS Mersey is a welcome first measure too – as we seek to increase the deterrent in the Channel.
Now we need to see more action from the French. It's vital they immediately increase the number of craft and police patrolling their coastline – to stop these small boats from embarking. And there is a strong case for using aircraft with thermal imagery cameras to track any attempts to make these dangerous and illegal crossings.
We cannot be complacent. Because it was a lack of swift action that led to the rise of the Calais Jungle. At its height, some 10,000 people lived in the migrant camp in misery and squalor. People traffickers roamed free exploiting the vulnerable and terrorising tourists and truckers. Only after a hard-fought campaign was the Jungle dismantled and the number of migrants being trafficked plummeted. We cannot risk allowing the bad old days to return.
The Home Secretary is right to send a strong message and remind everyone that asylum should be claimed in the first country people come to, not the last. Indeed, why are they not claiming asylum in France, which is a very safe country? To return those attempting to cross to France would be the best deterrent and I hope the French will agree to that.
For too many years, the UK has gained a reputation as a soft touch on immigration. That needs to change or else people will continue to huddle on board these unseaworthy vessels, risking their lives and those of their young children.
We cannot allow this to carry on. The key is to stop the boats before they leave the French shore – and catch the ruthless people traffickers behind this crisis.
Investing more in our border security and taking firm action on illegal immigration must be a national priority.
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