Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 21 July 2021.
On Tuesday this week I spoke in the House of Commons in support of the government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill. This is important and necessary legislation to address the growing problem of illegal entry to the UK by migrants crossing the Dover straits.
In 2020, more than 8,500 people made such a journey in small vessels; 87% of them were men and 74% were aged 18 to 39. This year over 8,000 people have already completed the trip, including this week a record number in a single day of 430.
For local residents living along the coast from Folkestone to Dungeness, it has become a fact of life that when the weather is good, and the sea is calm hundreds of undocumented asylum seekers will attempt to cross the Channel in small boats. We cannot allow this to continue. We need to be clear that illegal crossings of the Channel are dangerous, and cost lives. In recent years, migrants have died whilst being smuggled in lorries, there have been deaths from people trying to walk through the Channel Tunnel, and there have been drownings at sea from people trying to make the crossing in small boats.
The government has made substantial investments along with the French authorities to improve security at the Port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel, making it much harder for people to gain illegal entry there. Improved patrolling along the French coast has led to the successful detection of many people as they attempt to make the crossing but before their boats enter the water, however this has so far proven to be not enough to stop the crossings.
Some people have called for migrant boats to be intercepted at sea, but the Royal Navy and UK Border Force cannot patrol in French waters without permission, and when the vessels cross into our half of the Channel, under international maritime law they have the right to land at the nearest available port. Interception at sea is also very dangerous if the migrant boats do not wish to cooperate. I would like to thank the teams who operate the Border Force vessels as well as the volunteer crews of the RNLI Lifeboats from Dover to Dungeness, for all they have done to keep people safe in the water.
Migrants could face 4 years in jail
It’s clear that we need to change the law to deter people from making these crossings, and that is what the Nationality and Borders Bill aims to do.
We need to make it clear that illegal entry to the UK is not a shortcut to residency in this country. We need to make it clear to the traffickers who prey on vulnerable people for profit that they will face tough sentences for bringing people into this country illegally. The Bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission to be here, sending a clear message to migrants thinking about making the dangerous and illegal journey. The maximum prison sentence for entering the country illegally will also rise from six months to four years.
Under this Bill, people traffickers could now face up to life imprisonment.
The government will continue to support safe routes for refugees escaping danger zones, working in partnership with the United Nations.