MoD considering request to deploy navy to stop Channel migrants

Home Office asked for patrols after saying migrants should face ‘real consequences’

Alarm is growing over UK proposals to introduce hardline measures to discourage refugees and migrants from seeking sanctuary after the Ministry of Defence confirmed it was considering a Home Office request to deploy navy vessels in the Dover Straits.

It comes after the immigration minister, Chris Philp, called for migrants caught crossing the Channel to be fingerprinted and face “real consequences”, before a meeting next week with his French counterparts.

Suggested measures to make crossing the Channel “unviable”, outlined in an article for the Daily Telegraph by Philp, are also understood to include taking migrants into custody for breaking the law and back to French ports rather than to the UK.

The Times reported that ministers are also considering blocking migrant boats in the Channel before they enter British waters, modelled on Australian tactics used against migrants arriving by boats from neighbouring Indonesia.

On Saturday afternoon, the Ministry of Defence said it was “working hard to identify how we can most effectively assist” after receiving a request from the Home Office to patrol the Channel for migrant boats under the military aid to the civilian authorities protocol. “As ever, the MoD will do all it can to support HMG requirements,” the spokesperson added.

However, it comes after an MoD source dismissed the “inappropriate and unnecessary” idea and lawyers warned pushbacks at sea were unlawful.

“It’s beyond absurd to think that we should be deploying multimillion-pound ships and elite soldiers to deal with desperate people barely staying afloat on rubber dinghies in the Channel,” they said. “It could potentially put people’s lives at even greater risk.”

More than 350 migrants arrived on UK shores on Thursday and Friday – and Kent county council revealed it had already taken 400 unaccompanied migrant children into its care this year.

As the government seeks to respond to the increased crossings, Philp wrote: “These crossings are not only dangerous and illegal, but totally unnecessary. Migrants who set off from France have travelled through safe EU states with well-run asylum systems.

“Genuine refugees should claim asylum there, not risk their lives at the hands of criminals, and break the law by seeking to enter the UK by illicit means. The government is determined to make this route unviable.”

He added that the UK wants the French to ensure that migrants caught attempting to sail cannot do so again by removing them from Calais and providing “options to seek protection in France or return to their home countries”.

Philp continued: “Illegal migrants need to be fingerprinted so they know that once detected, they face real consequences if they try to cross again. This will help us break up the gangs that facilitate these crossings.”

Tony Smith, a former director-general of Border Force, said smugglers were exploiting a law that obliges a country’s vessels to rescue people once they enter the waters of their jurisdiction.

He called for Britain to negotiate an agreement with France to allow people to be instantly returned. “Once they are under our jurisdiction we will immediately face asylum claims,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Jack Straw, a former Labour home secretary, urged against pushing migrants back to France, saying it would not work and warning of potentially fatal capsizing.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It will only take one of these dinghies to capsize and everybody to drown, which is perfectly feasible, for there to be a hullabaloo including in the Conservative party and for the policy to have to be reversed so I wouldn’t go down that route.

“The only way to solve this is for us to say to the French, ‘Yes, these people are fleeing France and to that extent they will cease to be your problem but it is a major problem for you because you’ve got organised criminality which is extending into drugs, into people trafficking and much else besides.”

Charities criticised the lack of legal routes to claim asylum in the UK while admonishing the government for “shirking” responsibility.

Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “It’s deeply troubling the government is trying to shirk its responsibility to help people fleeing from some of the world’s most violent and oppressive countries.

“Britain is better than this. Refugees deserve better than this. We must step up alongside other countries and make our contribution to the global refugee crisis.

“The government must urgently restart its hugely successful refugee resettlement programme, on hold since March, and make a long-term commitment to this. It must also finally reform the restrictive rules on family reunion so that families are not kept apart.”

Fizza Qureshi, the co-chief executive of Migrants’ Rights Network, said: “Instead of focusing on enforcement and preventing these crossings, they need to concentrate on providing safe and legal routes so no one has to risk their lives via a treacherous journey in the first place.”


Mattha Busby

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson accused of scapegoating migrants over Channel comments
PM accused of using ‘inaccurate’ language after describing crossings as ‘dangerous and criminal’

Jamie Grierson and Dan Sabbagh

10, Aug, 2020 @4:46 PM

Article image
UK ministers urged to ‘stop playing politics’ over Channel crossings
Aid groups say more deaths are likely and Britain must allow safe routes for asylum seekers

Jamie Grierson, Jon Henley in Calais and Dan Sabbagh in Dunkirk

25, Nov, 2021 @8:59 PM

Article image
Pregnant woman among 31 migrants rescued trying to cross Channel
Rescue launched after engine of one small boat cuts out and another begins to take in water

Nazia Parveen

29, Dec, 2019 @7:13 PM

Article image
Priti Patel says it is up to France to stop refugees crossing Channel
Home secretary reiterates offer to send more police to France after 27 people drown trying to reach UK

Peter Walker Political correspondent

25, Nov, 2021 @8:00 PM

Article image
Rishi Sunak reportedly seeking deal with France to curb Channel crossings
Draft deal includes targets and staff bonuses for tackling the number of asylum seekers in the UK

Nadeem Badshah

27, Oct, 2022 @10:56 PM

Article image
Priti Patel says Macron ‘absolutely wrong’ over Channel crossings
Home secretary rebuffs French claim UK immigration policy encourages people to risk dangerous journey

Rajeev Syal and Amelia Gentleman

02, Feb, 2022 @7:39 PM

Article image
Charities criticise lack of safer options after 10,000 migrants cross Channel
Warning that risk to life is ‘shameful’ as people in small boats so far this year include record 482 on one day

Haroon Siddique and agency

05, Aug, 2021 @3:32 PM

Article image
From diplomat to dinghy: why people are risking the Channel in small boats
A blinded politician, a woman who was gang-raped, and a young man whose kidney was stolen tell how they had no choice

Diane Taylor

24, Sep, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Union considers legal action over Channel refugee ‘pushbacks’
Border Force staff express concern at Priti Patel’s proposed tactic of forcing boats back to France

Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

14, Nov, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
France accuses Patel of blackmail in row over Channel migrants
Interior minister says UK plans to return boats of vulnerable people would not be accepted

Rajeev Syal, Jamie Grierson and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

09, Sep, 2021 @6:45 PM