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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gives update on Channel crossings in Kent

Rishi Sunak insists his government’s new policies to tackle crossings across the English Channel are working.

During a visit to Dover today, the Prime Minister repeated that the number of asylum seekers making the dangerous journey from France to the UK in small boats has fallen by 20%.

He said the government's plans – which includes a new Illegal Migration Bill – are working, something that "we haven't seen before".

Mr Sunak spoke from the Western Jet Foil, an asylum seeker processing centre in Dover, where he addressed members of the press over immigration and illegal crossings and the progress made in the last six months.

He said: "We will not rest until the boats are stopped and with grit and determination we will stop this."

Mr Sunak said immigration was a global problem with 100 million displaced people around the world and it had to be dealt with by international co-operation.

He said there was a new deal with France, and since then 40% more small boats had been stopped since last year.

He said a deal was also made with Albania in December, when last year a third of crossings came from that country.

But in the last six months the crossings from Albania fell by 90%.

Life jackets found in a dinghy at Dover. Picture: Sam Lennon
Life jackets found in a dinghy at Dover. Picture: Sam Lennon

He added that arrests in places where migrants worked illegally had doubled.

He said: "The message is if you come here illegally you can't stay.

"You will be detained and removed to your own country or a safe country such as Rwanda.

"It is this country that decides who comes here, not criminal gangs."

Mr Sunak added that the acceptance rate for Albanians to make asylum claims here was now down to 2%.

The Prime Minister also praised the efforts of the Border Force team in Dover for "doing such incredible work."

He said they had to deal with distressing situations such as rescuing at sea toddlers with hypothermia.

He said: "Children being exploited that way is completely and utterly wrong.

"The moral and compassionate thing is to stop gangs exploiting these people."

Mr Sunak earlier this morning boarded a Border Force vessel to experience issues in the Channel first hand.

Rishi Sunak boarded a patrol boat this morning, ready to be taken into the English Channel to see first hand the problems. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Rishi Sunak boarded a patrol boat this morning, ready to be taken into the English Channel to see first hand the problems. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Just before Mr Sunak spoke to the media, reporters were shown a typical small boat, one that crammed in 60 people and was seven metres long and 2.5 metres wide.

The flimsy dinghies that carry the asylum seekers are made from a similar kind of plastic used in children's toys and bouncy castles.

The flooring of the inflatable boats is made of wood and aluminium sheets.

The four asylum seekers who died at sea last December had perished after their vessel had split from underneath, causing a huge hole.

A Border Force official said: "All the occupants went into the water able and four died.

"These boats are not designed to cross the Channel."

The engines are only 30 to 40 horsepower and do not contain enough fuel to get them across.

The journeys take an incredibly long six hours, when it is about 90 minutes on the ferry. On at least one occasion it took 24 hours.

The official added: "The pilots have had little maritime training and a lot or the occupants don't even swim."

For these treacherous journeys the asylum seekers pay 2,500 to 3,500 euros each to reserve a place or 1,00 euros if they go on standby.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke, who was at the Jet Foil listening to Mr Sunak’s speech, said afterwards:

“The Prime Minister specifically commented about the impact of the small boats crossings on our area, referencing my meetings with him and other Ministers to highlight pressures on local services and our community. I also met with the small boats operational commanders to discuss steps being taken to ensure boats don’t reach our beaches undetected.

“It’s good news that overall numbers of arrivals are down 20% so far this year, and Albanian numbers 90% down. However, it’s early days and too many boats are still making the dangerous crossing and it is costing too much.

“The PM is showing that with grit and grip he can turn the small boats crisis around.”

The update from the Prime Minister comes after immigration minister Robert Jenrick announced the backlog in processing asylum cases was still at more than 150,000 cases – despite Mr Sunak’s promises to abolish the waits this year.

In December, the Prime Minister pledged to “abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions” by the end of 2023.

Speaking to BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Jenrick also said the asylum system is “riddled with abuse” and spoke of the need for changes as he defended his decision to make adult asylum seekers share rooms to reduce the reliance on hotels – branding the decision “completely fair and reasonable”.

According to the BBC, the Home Office estimates it will have to spend anywhere between £3 billion and £6 billion on detention facilities, accommodation costs and removals under current plans to tackle small boats.

Photo of asylum seeker dinghy at Dover's Western Jet Foil centre, which can take 60 people
Photo of asylum seeker dinghy at Dover's Western Jet Foil centre, which can take 60 people

Officials believe the number of people who arrived on small boats last year stood at about 45,000.

The UK has a legal obligation to provide asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work, with a basic level of accommodation.

The latest Home Office figures showed that 172,758 people were waiting for an initial decision on asylum applications at the end of March – a 57% increase compared to a year earlier.

The current statistics mean asylum applications are at their highest level ever since comparable records began in 2010.

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