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Immigration minister heads to Paris amid Tory pressure over migrant crossings

More than 4,000 people have attempted to cross the Channel in small boats this year.

3 min read

Immigration minister Chris Philip will hold talks with French counterparts on Tuesday in an attempt to tackle a rise in the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

The Home Office minister is heading to Paris amid mounting pressure from Conservative MPs to put a stop to the journeys. 

More than 4,000 people have so far made the perilous voyage across the Channel this year in small vessels, and Mr Philp will seek to strike an agreement to increase the number of asylum seekers returned to France.

The Times reports that Home Secretary Priti Patel will also meet French interior minister Gérald Darmanin next month to try to reach an agreement. 

France has already asked for £30m from the UK to help fund policing operations at the border.

A group of 23 Conservative MPs and two peers on Monday wrote to Ms Patel to demand “stronger enforcement” efforts to combat a “surge in illegal immigration”.

"It is strikingly clear that, rather than a 'hostile environment', invading migrants have been welcomed”, they said, with the group claiming that those who arrive can make use of “immediate access to regular payments whilst accommodated at taxpayer expense in expensive hotels”.

The UK’s cash support for asylum seekers is £37.75 per week per person.

The letter added: "All this is relayed to people smugglers and potential economic migrants in France, encouraging and emboldening those intent on facilitating further border crossings."

Official figures show that nine migrants were sent back to France last year under the European Union’s Dublin regulations, which are aimed at assigning responsibility for considering a asylum request among the bloc's member states.

The rules are often used to argue that asylum seekers who have passed through another member state on their way to the UK should be returned to that country.

But Downing Street believes that the "inflexible and rigid" regulations are being "abused” because they give the UK six months to remove someone after accepting responsibility for their case, or just six weeks if the person is detained.

Mr Johnson said on Monday: “Be in no doubt, what is going on is the activity of cruel and criminal gangs, who are risking the lives of these people, taking them across the Channel - a pretty dangerous stretch of water - in potentially unseaworthy vessels. 

“We want to stop that, working with the French, to make sure they understand that this isn't a good idea. That this is a very bad and stupid and dangerous and criminal thing to do. 

“But there is a second thing, and that is to look at the legal framework we have. 

“That means that when people do get here, it is very, very difficult to send them away again, even though blatantly they have come here illegally."

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has suggested that the UK's current set up makes it difficult for asylum seekers to apply to stay in Britain unless they are on UK soil.

Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the JCWI, told PoliticsHome: “Nobody wants to see people forced to make the dangerous journey across the channel. 

“But there is, quite simply, no safe or legal route for people to claim asylum in Britain without setting foot on British soil. 

“A claim centre in France and humanitarian visas for people seeking asylum would be far more effective and easy to implement than attempting to frustrate international law.  

“The Prime Minister’s proposals will only make the situation worse for desperate people and are a shameful scar on our history of offering people refuge. History will not view the Government’s response kindly.”

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