EU becoming 'intolerant' to migrant crossings says panellist
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The number that have landed is five times higher than in 2018. But immigration minister Tom Pursglove conceded nearly all those who came to Britain this year are still here because we are yet to secure bilateral deals with European countries to return those caught. Mr Pursglove told a Home Affairs Select Committee that small boats were “becoming the route of choice for facilitations by evil criminal gangs”, adding “the smugglers are becoming more audacious”.
He said the Government needs to “sever the perception that getting in a small boat and coming to the UK will mean you stay in the UK”.
Dan O’Mahoney, the Home Office’s Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, warned that smuggling migrants across the channel has become “so profitable for criminals that it’s going to take a phenomenal amount of effort to shift it”.
He said that a boat carrying 88 migrants was worth €350,000 (£296,000) to people smugglers if each of them paid £3,380. More than 23,000 people have arrived in the UK this year – almost three times the total of 8,500 in 2020.
MPs also heard how gangs are forcing migrants into boats at knife point.
Mr O’Mahoney said: “At a 50 percent interception rate, which is roughly what we’re seeing at the moment, criminals are always going to take that chance as even half of €350,000 is a lot of money.”
Mr Pursglove confirmed “a significant proportion of funding has been paid to the French” to increase security on its northern coast.
But he declined to tell MPs how much has been handed over so far. Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper had asked “how many asylum seekers or how many people arriving” had been returned to any EU country since January.
Mr Pursglove, who has been in the post for two months, replied: “On returns related to small boat arrivals …the answer in this year is five.”
“There is not a returns agreement with the European Union in place at the moment.”
The Home Office minister came under fire from MPs on his own side as he faced questions over why the Government could not send migrants back. Exasperated Tory MP Adam Holloway said: “Why can’t you just make a deal with the French that when someone comes here you pick them up and send them back
Mr Pursglove told the committee: “What we are seeing is that small boat arrivals is becoming the route of choice for facilitations by evil criminal gangs.
“The smugglers are becoming more audacious. We are seeing riskier behaviours. We are seeing bigger boats deployed. We are seeing a wider array of crossings originating from a wider stretch of coastline.”
He said boats were previously being launched from around 50km (31 miles) of French coastline but it is now 200.
Admitting this was “troubling”, he also claimed there was “most definitely an improvement” in the prevention of small boat crossings.
Then he said: “Clearly, the fact that we’ve had a five-fold increase in clandestine arrivals this summer compared with 2018 is completely unacceptable. We’ve got to do better on this. And I will not rest until we get to a far better place on this issue.”
He added: “You will appreciate that the French would have to agree” [to migrants crossing the Channel being returned to them].
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