It’s becoming a regular sight locally for hundreds of migrants to cross the English Channel. The numbers have continued to rise at an alarming rate. Around 15,000 migrants have arrived in small boats this year alone.
It has now been four years since the small boat route started in earnest. Over that time what started as a trickle, no more than a handful of people a year, has turned into a steady stream. The scale of the problem now makes it harder to stop than when it began. But it is possible, with a combination of three firm actions – stopping the boats leaving in the first place, turning boats around and effective returns.
Bringing the migrant crisis to an end is increasingly urgent as we heard into Winter. For while many arrive safely, some tragically lose their lives, as we have seen in recent weeks. It’s an incredibly dangerous journey across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and will become ever more treacherous as the weather gets worse over the next few months.
Moreover, the reality is that every single one of those individuals is already safe in France – and many other countries before then. They are not fleeing immediate danger or at risk of persecution in France. Even worse, the crossings are masterminded by international criminal gangs. The thousands of pounds paid by migrants for passage is more cash in the hands of crooks – potentially helping to fund their other illegal operations. Things that harm other people and put our country at risk.
Stopping the small boats crisis is as much in the interests of France as it is for the UK. The most experienced and informed French politicians understand this. Xavier Bertrand, the regional president of Northern France, has been calling for a joint approach across the Channel. For it is Calais that is the migrant magnet. Northern France that is once again threatened with ever increasing numbers of migrants. The numbers are so great that there is a risk that a new ‘Calais Jungle’ could form.
Before it was bulldozed a few years ago the Jungle was a place of unimaginable squalor. A place of violence, lawlessness and criminality. Migrants lived in shacks covered with just a tarpaulin. Without sanitation or running water. Disease was rife. Criminal gangs openly plied their trade. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
Of course the UK will be there for people who genuinely need our help and who we have committed to help. We always will be. But we can’t risk going back to those bad old days of the Calais Jungle, or risk more loss of life in the English Channel. It’s time for real and robust action on both sides of the English Channel. To put a stop to the small boats crisis once and for all.