WATCH: Sajid Javid suggests cross-Channel asylum seekers may not be 'genuine'
Sajid Javid has suggested that migrants trying to get into the UK by crossing the English Channel may not be "genuine" asylum seekers.
The Home Secretary questioned why the hundreds who have tried to make the perilous crossing from Calais to Dover in small boats had not chosen to stay in France.
Mr Javid was forced to cut short a family holiday in South Africa to tackle the crisis, which he declared a "major incident".
He has also ordered two more Border Force boats to patrol the Channel - which is the busiest shipping lane in the world - in an attempt to deter any more migrants from attempting the journey.
Speaking on a visit to Dover, the Home Secretary said 539 people had crossed the Channel in 2018, with 80% making the journey in the last three months of the year.
He said: "A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country that you arrived in?
"Because France is not a country where anyone would argue it is not safe in anyway whatsoever, and if you are genuine then why not seek asylum in your first safe country?"
Mr Javid said he wanted to send a message to trafficking gangs that they will not succeed, so migrants should not attempt the journey.
He added: "It’s incredibly dangerous, please do not do that, you are taking your life into your own hands.
"Also if you do somehow make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure that you are often not successful because we need to break that link, and to break that link means we can save more lives."
But Mr Javid's comments drew swift condemnation from Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Ed Davey.
The former Cabinet minister said: "The Home Secretary's comments about refugees crossing the Channel show that the Tories' nasty, hostile environment is alive and well.
"Many of these people have fled war in Syria or persecution in Iran. For the Home Secretary to suggest – on the basis of no evidence whatsoever – that they are not 'genuine' asylum seekers is completely unacceptable. For the Government to summarily deny their claims would be unlawful and inhumane."