Over the last week our area saw an influx of two groups – beach day trippers and national media covering the record arrival of migrants in small boats. In many respects those two groups represent the opportunity, but also the challenge, of being both the guardian and the gateway of our great nation.
Tourism, retail and hospitality are at the heart of our local economic vision. The attributes of the area are evident – from the stunning beaches to the beautiful countryside, world famous castles and the iconic white cliffs. Local entrepreneurs are springing into action to take advantage of the tourism opportunity – from iced coffee vans to outdoor pubs and takeaways.
Yet in recent weeks, alongside the sun seekers, border force were at the very same beauty hotspots looking for dinghies and collecting illegal entrants. I had emails from people saying that they would no longer visit our beaches with their children, having seen this first-hand. We cannot afford for our area to be blighted by the migrant situation, as Calais has been. Our tourism and local economy is too vital.
The local beaches of Kingsdown and St Margaret’s have been particularly hard hit. A group of migrant men who landed at St Margaret’s were photographed laughing while sitting on the sea wall – shirtless, sunbathing and taking selfies. This caused angry responses across the nation and has heightened demands that more should be done to stop the small boats crossings. Sights of a heavily pregnant woman meandering across the pebbles of Dungeness with a large group of women and children have confirmed fears that people traffickers ply their trade with abandon, unstopped and seemingly unstoppable.
Yet stop this trade across the small boats crossings we must. For one thing it is incredibly dangerous and there has been loss of life. That’s why it is essential that the traffickers are tackled at source. So far UK Immigration Enforcement has made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions and a total of 437 years in prison for such activities. The appointment of Dan O’Mahoney from the National Crime Agency bolsters this work, as he is a national expert on people trafficking gangs and is well used to working with his international counterparts on such matters.
But much more needs to be done. All options must be on the table. Because in addition to tackling the trafficking gangs it is the route itself that needs to be closed down. So we need the French to stop the boats leaving in the first place, return boats in the Channel back to France instead of bringing them into Britain, and return people who come into our country through these illegal routes. I have long said that it is only when migrants and traffickers alike know that they can’t break into Britain this way that this small boats crisis will come to an end.