Priti Patel has said the “problem” of illegal migration is down to the EU’s open borders.
Speaking during a visit to Washington for talks with her US counterpart, the home secretary said the Schengen agreement – which allows passport-free travel across European borders in the so-called Schengen zone – has left France “overwhelmed” with migrants trying to reach the UK across the Channel.
More than 23,000 people have arrived in the UK this year after crossing the Channel in small boats – almost three times the total of about 8,500 in 2020.
A total of 1,185 migrants reached the UK in small boats last Thursday alone – a new daily record.
In recent weeks, at least two people have died while trying to attempt the perilous journey, and several more have been feared to be lost at sea.
Speaking to MPs on Wednesday, Tom Pursglove, a minister for both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, disclosed that just five migrants who crossed the Channel by boat to the UK have been returned to Europe so far this year.
Ms Patel said the EU has “no border protections whatsoever” which has led to a “mass migration crisis”.
“Let’s not forget that the real problem on illegal migration flows is the EU has no border protections whatsoever – Schengen open borders,” she said during the Washington visit.
The home secretary added that about 80 million individuals were “on the move” across the globe – with many hoping to make it to the UK.
It comes amid a worsening situation at Poland’s border with Belarus.
There are also concerns that the Taliban‘s takeover of Afghanistan will result in a large influx of migrants fleeing the country.
Ms Patel also described France as being “overwhelmed” by migration levels.
“I think it’s fair to say they are overwhelmed. That is a fact. When you think about the flows, what are they doing? They are absolutely patrolling the beaches [but] I would maintain the numbers are so significant that have they got enough resources? We are constantly pressing France on this.”
The home secretary said she had secured assurances from the French government that it will use more technology to monitor the coastline.
Ms Patel is due to speak in Washington later on Friday.
On Thursday, Dominic Raab did not deny to Sky News that ministers are hoping to secure a deal to fly migrants who cross the Channel on small boats to Albania.
The deputy prime minister and justice secretary told Kay Burley it is “right” to “look, at least, at possibilities of international partnerships – international processing of some of these claims”.
It came after The Times reported that ministers are hoping to seal an agreement to fly Channel-crossing migrants to the southeast European country for offshore processing within seven days of arrival on British beaches.
It is suggested that the prospect of a long wait there while asylum claims are evaluated would act as a deterrent against making the treacherous journey.
Albania’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Olta Xhacka described the original story in the newspaper as “fake news”.
The European country is the latest destination the government has considered using as a base for an asylum processing centre.
In September last year, a Home Office source said the government was looking at the idea of “offshoring people” and it was understood that the Foreign Office carried out an assessment for Ascension Island – a remote UK territory more than 4,000 miles away.
The government reportedly looked at the practicalities of such an arrangement and decided not to proceed.
At the time, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “This ludicrous idea is inhumane, completely impractical and wildly expensive – so it seems entirely plausible this Tory government came up with it.”
St Helena, in the South Atlantic, is also said to have previously been considered by the government.
Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, Mr Raab said: “We’ve seen 19,000 crossings stopped this year alone, 65 convictions secured – the predatory criminal gangs that thrive on this miserable trade.
“And the home secretary has been engaged with her opposite numbers this week, their determination is to eliminate all of these illegal crossings.
“I think it is right there is practice around the world in relation to this to look, at least, at possibilities of international partnerships – international processing of some of these claims.”
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Pressed on whether these individuals would be going to Albania, he said “that is one country” – and “we are willing to look with partners at whether it is possible to do this international processing”.
A major immigration law making its way through parliament would give ministers the power to process migrants offshore, something which has been condemned by campaigners and cross-party MPs who say it would put vulnerable people including children at risk of harm.
Australia has controversially used offshore processing for asylum seekers for over 40 years.
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