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Migrant crisis: Tough new laws are planned, but the problems start far beyond the UK’s borders

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This week Sky News has been identifying the gaps in Britain’s border defences.

As the number of small boats crossing the Channel breaks new records and European countries brace for a new wave of people fleeing Afghanistan, the issue is rising up the public consciousness once more.

Ministers are meant to be able now to deliver on their promise to take back control post Brexit. So why does it not yet feel like that to some?

The government response to this issue is being led by Home Secretary Priti Patel. Nobody would doubt her right-wing credentials, and interestingly she has had plaudits from across the political spectrum for her handling of the migration aspects of the Afghanistan crisis.

Home Secretary Priti Patel talking to a refugee from Afghanistan who arrived on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Pic: AP
Image: Home Secretary Priti Patel talking to a refugee from Afghanistan who arrived on a evacuation flight at Heathrow Pic: AP

Her answer to the questions around Britain’s borders is the Nationality and Borders Bill currently in committee stage in the House of Commons. But does it answer the problems, many of which are caused beyond Britain’s borders?

One area of concern is the Mediterranean where people flee from countries like Tunisia, often aided by people smugglers. Sky News’ Adam Parsons talked to people smugglers acting with impunity, little worried about the consequences.

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Italian island is migrant gateway to EU

Tom Tugendhat, Tory chair of the foreign affairs select committee told Sky News the answer is to send more
Royal Navy vessels to help in the Med.

More on Asylum

“Our great strength we have with NATO allies around is that our border doesn’t start at Dover, it starts at the southern tip of Italy and Greece – working together and making sure these borders are defended and reinforced is exactly what we should be doing… but need to do more.

“Not about being kind to Italians. Its about defending ourselves further out.”

The Nationality and Borders Bill tightens the penalties for people smugglers in an attempt to tackle the problem.

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Tracking migrants with French Border Police

Another issue comes when migrants who have made it to the EU then try and cross the Channel to Britain. Sky News’ Michelle Clifford found that while French authorities would stop anyone still on land who looked like they would be attempting to cross the Channel, they would not stop boats once they were in the water, even when it was under French control.

They blame international law, thought many in Britain including MPs on the home affairs select committee claim the French are wrongly interpreting this.

Tim Loughton, Tory member of the home affairs select committee, said the French interpretation was “completely wrong”.

He added “We have evidence from maritime international lawyers – they made it clear that French authorities have power to intercept and repatriate passengers on boats, but actually have an obligation under international law – people on boats guilty of trying to enter UK illegally and paying organised crime to facilitate that journey, that would give grounds to French authorities to apprehend people, that is only what is going to stop that horrendous trade – people paying money to people smugglers, highly likely with them being taking back…that could stop that miserable trade stone dead.”

Asked why the British government hasn’t succeeded in convincing French they’re wrong, he said: “It’s all excuses, we made it clear – French claiming it’s a different interpretation, that’s wrong – also internal politics going on, a big row with those who run Calais and the federal government. They’re each trying to make it each other’s problem.”

The Nationality and Borders Bill will mark a serious attempt to block illegal immigration, alongside the new post Brexit points based entry system.

It will make it easier to return some illegal asylum seekers more quickly, make some asylum seekers apply before they reach UK shores and give border officials powers to turn back boats in UK waters.

But this does not – and cannot – stop Britain being an attractive country for economic migrants and asylum seekers.

Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch said that Britain would remain a country many aspire to live in so more had to be done to turn back illegal arrivals.

“Britain is an attractive country, so is France, US – most people wanted to got to the US first, we are part of wider picture of prosperous civilised fun countries.

“A lot of those coming are young man who want a better life – we are part of the story, in a way we have create the opportunity for a lot of Afghans to want to come here.”

But he added that once here, many were treated generously with little chance of being sent back.

“One of the principle reasons why the traffickers are able to sell Britain as the destination of choice is that having arrived here there’s very little chance of being sent back – very few people who apply for asylum and fail actually are sent back.

“That is a huge factor, while they’re here, we look after – hotels, detention centres that have been used – even these are not bad accommodations, there is a bit of money given for people to spend.

“Once you’re in the system you’re looked after – people see messages coming across, it is all made to be very attractive.”