Migrants continue to try to break into Britain by crossing the Channel in small boats. Attempts are becoming ever more risky – with a large group of around 50 detained last week having arrived in flimsy canoes.
Tragically, the weekend also saw the first incident in which a person may have lost their life trying to make this dangerous crossing. A woman is reported to have fallen from a dinghy seen heading towards the French coast by a cargo vessel on Friday. A major search operation was stood down on Saturday night.
This shocking incident has long been my worst fear. My thoughts and prayers go out to the woman and her family – as well as sincere hopes that she might yet be found.
These dangerous crossings have got to stop. The people traffickers don’t care a jot for people’s safety. Over the winter we heard of toddlers being crammed into unseaworthy vessels, which then crossed the Channel in the most appalling weather conditions.
The only way to bring the migrant crisis to an end is for traffickers and migrants alike to know the crossings won't succeed. That means 24/7 surveillance of the French coast – including investment in the long-range thermal imaging cameras used elsewhere in the world – so that any boats are spotted, intercepted and returned safely back to France.
Because as we have seen so many times over the years in Dover and Deal, anything other than strong action only encourages this activity. We will never forget the horrors of the Calais Jungle – a desolate place where thousands of vulnerable people lived in absolute squalor.
We got rid of it with tough action. We fought to convince the French to step up enforcement. By the end of 2016 the camp was dismantled – and things now are much improved. Yet a soft approach let the French port town become a migrant magnet. We must never allow it to happen again.
And it was our efforts that got people to stand up and take notice of the recent crisis. We invited numerous ministers down to Dover. Border Force cutters were ordered to return from the Mediterranean. A meeting was held with top officials in France where a joint agreement was struck, which included sending unsuccessful asylum seekers back to France.
Yet there is so much more that could and should be done. We need to send more of the unsuccessful asylum seekers back to France. We need to make the English Channel a joint UK/France security zone, so our boats can intercept smugglers wherever they are found. That’s why the Home Office must now get a grip on this crisis.
We must send out a stronger message. People on the other side of this debate claim to have these people’s safety in mind. Yet their plans would simply encourage more dangerous crossings to be made, putting more lives at risk.
One tragedy in the Channel is one too many. Firm action is needed now to prevent any more.