Britain must ferry migrants crossing the Channel back to France to stem the tide of human traffic
In the past two months, 239 people are known to have made the journey, either arriving on beaches or being picked up mid-Channel by coastguards and brought the rest of the way to Britain.
It is a tiny proportion of the 30,000 people each year who claim asylum in Britain and a drop in the ocean compared with net migration of 300,000 a year.
But to dismiss the growing cross-Channel traffic as insignificant misses the point.
It might be small numbers now — but as word gets around, it is almost inevitable that more and more will try their luck.
Migrants have mobile phones. They know whether or not their friends have made it to Britain.
Before long we will have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. The weather may be calm this week but we will soon be back into winter storms.
The Channel is a lot narrower than the Mediterranean, where 2,100 migrants lost their lives last year trying to make the journey from North Africa to Europe. But it is a lot rougher and colder.
The Government are doing some of the right things. Home Secretary Sajid Javid cut short his safari holiday in South Africa to deal with the problem.
Border Force patrol boats have been brought back from the Mediterranean and there is talk of Royal Navy boats being used to bolster patrols. Yesterday there were two arrests of people suspected of people-trafficking.
Migration campaign groups like to make out the crossings are a case of desperate people taking to whatever means they can to reach safety.
But Javid sees it what it really is: A ruthless business run by callous traffickers who promise safe passage then charge migrants thousands of pounds to put them in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats. But there is one aspect of the Government’s response I simply do not understand.
Why, after would-be migrants have been plucked from the Channel, are they brought to Britain, rather than returned promptly to France, from where they set sail? Of course, if people are in distress, we must help them.
We should also respect international treaties on asylum seekers.
We did, after all, help draft human rights laws after World War Two, when we helped save large numbers of refugees fleeing Hitler. But there is nothing in international law that says we should operate a de facto ferry service for migrants who are not fleeing danger.
On the contrary, our moral duty is to do what we can to stop people-trafficking.
Under international agreement, asylum-seekers are required to claim refuge in the first “safe” country in which they arrive.
This rule is vital to discourage economic migrants — simply in search of a new life, not in fear of their lives — from posing as refugees, thus jamming the system for people in genuine danger.
For all its faults, France — like Britain — is judged to be a safe country.
The only justification for an asylum-seeker to cross the Channel would be to escape the clutches of President Macron.
Admittedly, there might be a few gilets jaunes — the fuel protesters who have been rioting in recent weeks — who fall into this category, but they are not the ones trying to cross the Channel.
Why, then, are we not closing down the trafficking trade by routinely intercepting boats and taking migrants back to France?
If we did, word would quickly get around and few people would attempt the journey. David Wood, a former Home Office chief whose job it was to enforce immigration rules, has said it would be perfectly legal to do this.
Moreover, we don’t have to wait until migrant boats are in UK territorial waters, which extend 12 miles off the coast. A Home Office spokesman yesterday confirmed there is nothing to stop UK search-and-rescue operations crossing into international or French territorial waters.
The Government should be looking, too, at how it processes asylum claims.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that many migrants choose to travel to Britain to make asylum claims because they sense authorities are softer here than in France.
Nearly all of the migrants picked up in the Channel in recent weeks appear to be young men from Iran, a country ruled by religious zealots where opportunities might be poor but which is not racked by war or famine.
The number of Iranians attempting to travel to Britain seems to have surged since Serbia launched a visa-free scheme for Iranians last year. It has been reported that 12,000 of those who took advantage have failed to return home.
I sympathise with anyone living under the ayatollahs but unless they are dissidents with a record of campaigning against the Iranian regime, or are otherwise in genuine fear of their lives, they should not be treated as refugees.
As Iranian journalist Sohrab Ahmari writes in The Spectator this week, some have feigned being gay or are converting to Christianity solely to improve the chances of their asylum applications.
At least one charity has withdrawn from Calais after concluding that most of the people trying to reach Britain from there are economic migrants.
The sooner we can close down the cross-Channel human trade, the better we can focus efforts on saving the lives of genuine refugees in Syria and other countries suffering war and famine.
- Ross Clark is a columnist on The Spectator.
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