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Military to patrol Channel in bid to reduce asylum seeker crossings, reports say


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The military is to be put in charge of reducing the number of asylum seekers reaching UK shores via boat, a reports say.

It is reported that "hundreds" of people crossing the Channel could also be sent to resettle in Africa, as part of Boris Johnson's new strategy.

A Border Force cutter in the Channel. Stock picture: Susan Pilcher
A Border Force cutter in the Channel. Stock picture: Susan Pilcher

It is said the Prime Minister's plan is to give the Royal Navy "primacy" over all government-run boats operating in the Channel this month.

The Times reports: "A rear admiral will have the power to direct Border Force, coastguard, fisheries protection and customs and excise to carry out surveillance or intercept those crossing the Channel."

Asylum seekers would be escorted ashore, where they would then be processed at new "migrant hubs".

News of the plans has sparked concerns it could endanger asylum seekers.

A government source told the Times: "We are not talking about naval vessels ramming migrant boats."

Boris Johnson (Jacob King/PA)
Boris Johnson (Jacob King/PA)

The focus is said to instead be upon ensuring asylum seekers cannot reach the UK's shores illegally without the government's knowledge.

The Times adds: "Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, are also in talks about “outsourcing” UK asylum claims to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda.

"Under the plans the government would fly hundreds of asylum seekers abroad for processing and settlement.

"Ministers are willing to pay hundreds of millions of pounds a year to any nation willing to take up its offer, although none has done so."

The resettlement plan would aim to deter people from reaching the UK, in a bid to settle here.

Border Force officers carrying out exercises to practice intercepting boats in the Channel. Stock picture: Gareth Fuller/PA
Border Force officers carrying out exercises to practice intercepting boats in the Channel. Stock picture: Gareth Fuller/PA

But some are concerned the prospect of being "escorted" to shore by the military could incentivise people to make the perilous Channel crossing.

Currently, the vast majority of boats attempting to reach the UK are intercepted by agencies such as Border Force and the RNLI before reaching the coast.

Last year, a record of more than 28,400 asylum seekers arrived in the UK via Channel crossings – 20,000 more than in 2020.

Based on figures seen so far in 2022, it is likely this year will top that record again.

Government sources told the Times that putting the Navy in charge of operations in the Channel would allow the Home Office and Border Force to focus upon more long-term plans to reduce crossings.

An empty dinghy towed into Dover Marina last summer following one of the many large groups of people brought ashore by Border Force in recent years. Pictures Sam Lennon KM Group
An empty dinghy towed into Dover Marina last summer following one of the many large groups of people brought ashore by Border Force in recent years. Pictures Sam Lennon KM Group

An MoD source told the Times: “Unacceptable numbers of people continue to make the dangerous Channel crossings and last November’s tragic deaths serve as the strongest reminder of the need to stop them. The government is exploring every avenue to prevent further crossings.”

The news was welcomed by Dover MP Natalie Elphicke.

She said: “Everyone knows the Royal Navy rules the waves. This sends a clear message how serious Britain is about putting a stop to the small boat crossings.

“It’s necessary because it’s dangerous and inhumane to allow the trafficking of people across the English Channel to continue. It is incredibly unsafe and many people have tragically died. More lives are put at risk every single day it continues. The right, compassionate thing to do is to keep people safe on land, in France.”

Mrs Elphicke added: “There are safe and legal routes for family reunion, to apply to work in the UK and there are safe and to apply for asylum.

MP Natalie Elphicke on the Channel with the White Cliffs of Dover in the background. Picture: Office of Natalie Elphicke MP
MP Natalie Elphicke on the Channel with the White Cliffs of Dover in the background. Picture: Office of Natalie Elphicke MP

"Britain is one of the leading countries in terms of those resettlement programmes across the globe. That's the right way to help people who are the most vulnerable and in need.”

But Bridget Chapman, of Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) said the plan was part of a "chaotic pattern of sensationalist responses by the government" which has "only served to make the situation much worse".

"It's the latest in a long line of announcements and leaks – from floating walls and wave machines, to processing people in Albania or on Ascension Island.

"Many of them were aimed at grabbing headlines but never materialised into anything.

"It shows a lack of respect for the electorate, and a tawdry attitude to our responsibilities as part of a global community.

Bridget Chapman of Kent Refugee Action Network has condemned the reported plan
Bridget Chapman of Kent Refugee Action Network has condemned the reported plan

"The fact is that the numbers arriving are very manageable and it would be far better to work on ways of accepting and integrating asylum seekers so that they can start to rebuild their shattered lives."

Ms Chapman said the young people she worked with at KRAN simply wanted to live their lives in peace and described them as "tremendous assets to our communities".

She added: "We are currently wasting huge sums of public money in a chaotic response which isn't working.

"Rather than more of the same we need a fresh and humanitarian approach which reflects the kindness and decency of the British people."

Kay Marsh, Community Engagement and Migrant Support Coordinator at Dover-based charity Samphire, also raised concerns.

She described news of the planned deployment of the military "both worrying and infuriating".

"The decision to move these plans forward, is a clear attempt by the government to draw focus away from 'partygate' and the numerous other scandals the PM currently finds himself wrapped up in," she said.

"The issues causing displacement have not changed, and people arriving here are not illegal.

"There is currently no safe, legal way to enter the UK with the sole purpose of claiming asylum. Until we offer safe, legal routes to asylum here in the UK people will be forced to make these journeys.

"Further militarisation of the channel is not how we solve this issue, we must take a compassionate approach and the priority needs to be the preservation of life."

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