Sajid Javid 'acting illegally' by questioning whether cross-Channel asylum seekers are 'genuine'
Sajid Javid has been accused of breaking international law after he suggested that the hundreds of migrants crossing the English Channel in an attempt to get to the UK may not be "genuine" asylum seekers.
The Home Secretary questioned why those 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 yesterday, the top Tory - tipped as a contender to replace Theresa May as party leader - 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?"
But campaigners and politicians said the Home Secretary could be acting illegally by summarily dismissing the migrants' asylum claims.
Dr Lisa Doyle, director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: "The 1951 refugee convention acknowledges that refugees may enter countries through irregular routes and should not be penalised for this.
"The outcome of an asylum application cannot be pre-judged, irrespective of how that person reached the country. It’s a shame that the home secretary seems to need reminding that seeking asylum is a right and the UK has an obligation to assess claims fairly and grant protection to those who need it."
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Ed Davey 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."
Jon Date, head of government relations at Oxfam, said: "Anyone who arrives in this country seeking safety from war or persecution should have their asylum claim considered. To reject it because we don't like the manner in which they arrive would be illegal and is an affront to fairness and decency.
"The lack of safe options for people to claim asylum in the UK forces some to take dangerous boat journeys. If the Home Secretary is serious about protecting lives, he should provide more safe options for people seeking asylum. This includes changing the restrictive rules on family reunion so that people with relatives in the UK can apply to live with them."
But Mr Javid was backed by his Conservative colleagues, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock describing his comments as "spot on".
Tory MP Simon Hoare tweeted: "People leaving France are not fleeing from a dangerous war zone where civil order has broken down. We need to ensure we deal with legitimate asylum seekers with dignity and care and come down on the people traffickers with everything we can muster."
And Conservative backbencher Johnny Mercer tweeted: "Calm the outrage. Sajid is spot on. I get the same lines when I talk about ‘genuine’ PTSD. Facts are clear; I feel for their desperation. But let’s not pretend these poor people are fleeing persecution... in France."
Meanwhile, Mr Javid has written to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson asking for the Royal Navy to help solve the migrant crisis.
According to the Telegraph, the Home Secretary wants a military patrol vessel, dozens of sailors and aerial surveillance to help stop the crossings.
A Whitehall source told the paper it was a challenge for Mr Williamson to "put his money where his mouth is".