DAYS of flat calm and warm weather in the English Channel have been very bad news for Home Secretary Priti Patel, who is coming under increasing pressure from her own party to solve the “crisis” of refugees – the Tories usually call them illegal immigrants even though some are legitimate asylum seekers – entering the UK on boats and dinghies from the Continent.
To put the “crisis” in perspective, this year some 8500 people are known to have been transported across the Channel, mostly by criminal people-smuggling gangs charging £3000 or more for a seat on a dinghy, which is already more than the figure of 8400 for the whole of last year. Nobody knows how many other Channel crossers got in secretly.
It looks as though t least 10,000 people will arrive via the Channel this year. During what is now called the European migrant crisis of 2015-16, more than 140,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea in just eight months in 2016.
By far the biggest number of migrants into the European Union were refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Those countries remain the biggest source of refugees, many seeking asylum to escape their wars.
On Tuesday some 100 refugees were picked up at sea or guided into ports like Dover during the morning alone. They included a babe in arms and a four-year-old toddler.
HOW BIG A ‘CRISIS’ IS THIS?
IF you’re a right-wing Home Secretary who can’t seem to satisfy Tory backbenchers howling for her blood over the immigration issue generally, then this is a serious crisis, albeit one partly manufactured by herself. The problem for Patel is that last year she authorised the payment of £28.2 million to France to tackle migrants trying to get to the UK. On Monday night she had to almost double that amount to £54.2m to increase the number of French police – up to 200 – and invest in surveillance technology along the coast of France.
Then to cap it all Patel had to admit that 60% of recent arrivals had actually crossed the Channel from Belgium. She told the Home Affairs Committee that the people smugglers had changed their modus operandi and were operating from much longer stretches of coastline.
WHAT ARE THE FRENCH SAYING?
THEY have actually stopped around 7000 would be Channel-crossers since November, but the Calais French National Assembly member Pierre-Henri Dumont said that Patel’s deal with France would not “stem the flow of people seeking to make that very dangerous crossing”.
Dumont told Radio 4’s Today programme: “The fact is, having more money, having more police, having more controls will not prevent more crossing attempts. We have too many kilometres of shore to monitor. They can hide in a lot of places, there are a lot of roads, woods and trees.”
That provoked a response from Tory MP Tim Loughton who told Patel she was being “fobbed off” by the French.
He added: “Just giving the French more money to carry on doing what they’re doing badly is not going to solve the problem.”
WHAT IS AT THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM?
THE vast majority of refugees come to the UK to escape war, famine and persecution.
They believe, however erroneously, that the UK will take them in and given them a new safe life, especially if they are seeking asylum. No-one has calculated how many of the current refugees are economic migrants entering the UK illegally, and how many are genuine asylum seekers who have to be treated according to international law.
ARE THERE IMPLICATIONS FOR SCOTLAND?
INDEED so. The Home Office will eventually disperse new arrivals across the UK. The difference is that here they will be welcome.