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Government Calls On Army Reserves To Help Stop Migrant Crossings

3 min read

The government has made a new order to allow the Armed Forces to call up voluntary reservists to deal with illegal channel crossings.

Under the Reserve Forces Act 1996, the army can now enlist Reservists into permanent service to “prepare for, participate in, or support operations by Her Majesty’s Forces to counter illegal entries into the United Kingdom”.

The move comes after the Prime Minister announced on 14 April that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) would take over as the primary responder in the UKs response to small boat migration in the English Channel until at least January 2023. Overall responsibility for managing immigration remains with the Home Office, but the government has pledged £50m of funding to the MOD to assist them with these new responsibilities.

The move follows the government’s announcement last week that the UK has secured an agreement on asylum claims with Rwanda. Under the plans, people arriving into the UK through illegal crossings will be placed on one-way flights to Rwanda where their asylum claims will be processed, and they may be offered visas. 

Speaking on Tuesday, home secretary Priti Patel told MPs that their plans were legal and aimed at cracking down on people smugglers and “their evil trade in human cargo”. Official figures show that around 28,526 people crossed the channel in small boats last year, with the number predicted to nearly double in 2022.

However, concern has been raised that the new partnership will do little to deter people from making the unsafe crossing. Responding to Patel, former Prime Minister Theresa May said she could not support the offshoring policy on the grounds of "legality, practicality and efficacy".

"If it is the case that families will not be broken up, does she not believe, and where is her evidence that this will not simply lead to an increase in the trafficking of children," she asked.

The announcement that the Royal Navy will be responsible for the operation to counter small boats crossing the Channel – dubbed Operation ISOTROPE – has received concern from MPs. In a report last month, the Commons Defence Select Committee warned that the MOD had “little to gain and much to lose" by taking on these new responsibilities.

The cross group of MPs warned that the defence budget was already “inadequate” and that these plans took further resources away from an “already overstretched Department”.

The government states that Operation ISOTROPE will respond to attempted migrant flows in the months ahead, and extra funding will be provided to enhance a number of surface and surveillance capabilities and to optimise existing process and infrastructure.

Reserve Forces will now be put on standby, along with regular forces, to help the government deliver on these plans.

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