UK is 'target and magnet' for people traffickers, PM says, as 'desperate' migrant crossings continue

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery

The UK is a “target and magnet” for people traffickers, Boris Johnson has said, as migrant crossings continue.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons he has “a great deal of sympathy” for parents so desperate that they are putting their children in dinghies and even paddling pools to cross the Channel.

However he said that they are falling prey to criminal gangs and vowed to change the law to help tackle the crisis.

He made the comments as a fresh surge of migrants reached the UK, aided by sunshine and calm seas over the English Channel, resulting in at least 100 people arriving at Dover on Wednesday morning.

Groups of people, including young children, were brought to shore by Border Force patrol vessels and lifeboats following a small boat incident in the Channel.

Some of the suspected migrants smiled and waved as they arrived into the busy port while others carried toddlers too young to walk.

Children were among the group that arrived on Wednesday. Credit: PA

Following a question by Conservative Lee Anderson at Prime Minister's Questions who told the PM the asylum system is “broken and being abused”, Mr Johnson vowed to change the law.

He said: “I have a great deal of sympathy with those who are so desperate as to put their children in dinghies or even children’s paddling pools and try to cross the Channel.

“But I have to say what they’re doing is falling prey to criminal gangs and they are breaking the law. They’re also undermining the legitimate claims of others who would seek asylum in this country.

“That is why we will take advantage of leaving the EU by changing the Dublin regulations on returns and we will address the rigidities in our laws that makes this country, I’m afraid, a target and a magnet for those who would exploit vulnerable people in this way.”

Home Office minister Chris Philp said 24 people have been jailed for facilitating illegal immigration so far this year.

He told the Commons: “The majority of these crossings are facilitated by ruthless criminal gangs who make money from exploiting migrants who are desperate to come here.

“We’re working with the National Crime Agency to go after those who profit from such misery. Already this year 24 people have been convicted and jailed for facilitating illegal immigration.”

Chris Philp said 24 people have been convicted and jailed for facilitating illegal immigration.

Mr Philp said 34 people who attempted to cross the Channel today were picked up by the RNLI. He said the French authorities also stopped 84 migrants from making the journey on the French side today and over 3,000 crossing attempts have been stopped this year.

He added that the UK is working to return around 1,000 people who have illegally entered the UK after already having claimed asylum in another country.

More than 1,450 migrants made the crossing by small boat in August despite a vow from Home Secretary Priti Patel to make the dangerous route “unviable”.

Mr Philp highlighted the dangers of small boats crossing the Channel after a Sudanese migrant died last month attempting to get to the UK.

He told the Commons: “In recent months the UK has seen a completely unacceptable increase in illegal migration through small boat crossings from France to the UK.

“This Government and the Home Secretary are working relentlessly to stop these crossings.”

He added: “These crossings are highly dangerous. Tragically last month a 28-year-old old Sudanese man, Abdulfatah Hamdallah, died in the water near Calais attempting this crossing.”

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told the Commons that the Government's approach to the issue has been "defined by a lack of compassion and a lack of competence.”

He queried why work last year had “proved so inadequate”, asking when the joint action plan would be available for scrutiny.

He said: “The Government was warned including by the Foreign Affairs select committee that the collapse of safe routes would lead to growing numbers of people taking to the sea.”

He added: “The expectation around the Dubs amendment across the House was that 3,000 children would be accepted under the scheme. Does the minister now agree it was a profound error and frankly lacking in compassion to close down that scheme when only a 10th of that number had been accepted?”

Mr Philp replied: “This Government has provided almost 20,000 resettlement places since 2015, a number dwarfing the 3,000 mentioned. Since 2010, 44,000 children have been offered protection by the UK of one form or another.”

He added: “This Government certainly needs no lessons in compassion, our asylum system is extremely compassionate, extremely generous and those numbers speak for themselves.”

Wednesday has seen bright sunshine and winds under 5mph in Kent, with temperatures expected to reach 18C.

There are also reports of people landing on beaches in Kent. Lashing winds and choppy seas brought on by Storm Francis at the end of August made crossings impossible for several days, but conditions have improved in the first two days of September.

Immigration officials at the port of Dover were busy on Wednesday morning, with dozens of migrants waiting aboard Border Force vessels and lifeboats in the harbour.

Border Force officers bring people to shore following a small boat incident in the Channel. Credit: PA

After waiting to be brought ashore – some for about an hour – the migrants were led up the gangway towards the Border Force processing centre.

Once ashore, they will be assessed for symptoms of coronavirus, as is protocol.

Several empty dinghies with outboard motors attached were also seen being towed into the port throughout the morning.

Border Force and the RNLI remain active in British waters with French marine patrol boats active on the other side of the Channel.

Last week, the Banksy-funded refugee boat the Louise Michel had to be rescued by the Italian Coastguard after becoming stranded in the Mediterranean Sea after helping more than 200 people on board the vessel.