There is “no quick fix” to stop illegal immigrants arriving in the UK by crossing the English Channel in small boats, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Thursday, one day after the deadliest incident yet in the crisis.
A dinghy carrying illegal immigrants capsized off the coast of the French port city of Calais on Wednesday, causing 27 deaths. The French prosecutor’s office said the dead included 17 men, seven women, and two boys and one girl believed to be teenagers.
In an urgent statement to the House of Commons, Patel said the incident was “a dreadful shock” and “a reminder of how vulnerable people are put at peril when in the hands of criminal gangs.”
“There is also no quick fix. This is about addressing long-term pull factors, smashing the criminal gangs that treat human beings as cargo, and tackling supply chains,” she told MPs.
More than 25,700 people have reached the UK in small boats this year, three times the total for the whole of 2020.
New figures released by the Home Office on Thursday show that more than 37,500 asylum claims were made in the UK in the year to September, which is the highest level for nearly 20 years.
The Home Office said, “The increase in applications is likely linked in part, to the easing of global travel restrictions that were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to an increase in small boat arrivals to the UK (of which almost all claim asylum).”
In July, the UK and France announced an agreement on tackling the problem, under which the UK would pay France £54 million ($75 million) to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches.
But following a meeting of the Cobra emergencies committee on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it is clear that French operations “haven’t been enough” and the people traffickers are “literally getting away with murder.”
However, Natacha Bouchart, mayor of Calais, said it is the British who are to blame and called on Johnson to “face up to his responsibilities.”
“The British government is to blame. I believe that Boris Johnson has, for the past year and a half, cynically chosen to blame France,” she was quoted by French media as saying.
Franck Dhersin, vice president of transport for the northern Hauts-de-France region, said the “mafia chiefs” at the top of the trafficking networks live in the UK and must be arrested.
“And the mafia chiefs live in London … They live in London peacefully, in beautiful villas, they earn hundreds of millions of euros every year, and they reinvest that money in the City,” he told French TV station BFMTV.
PA contributed to this report.