Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

Channel migrants: French politicians accused of giving false impression of life in UK

French politicians have been accused of giving migrants a false impression of how easy it is to live in the UK.

The Home Office’s new clandestine Channel threat commander, Dan O’Mahoney, agreed it was happening while appearing before MPs on the Home Affairs Committee.

He was speaking after a record 416 migrants made it to the UK in small boats yesterday – the most in a single day.

Downing Street said on Thursday that the figure was “completely unacceptable”, the prime minister’s spokesman adding that “all options” were being explored to address the situation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to change the law to help tackle the flow.

During the committee hearing, Conservative MP Tim Loughton said it appeared that French MPs were spreading “misconceptions” that migrants were “actually going to be looked after if they do make it to the UK”.

He added: “That’s part of the problem, isn’t it, that people are coming here on a false premise?”

Mr O’Mahoney replied: “I think that’s absolutely correct.”

The former Royal Marine said it was “very unlikely” that any migrants who landed on beaches could remain undetected, telling MPs: “I can say with a high degree of certainty there are no known situations where a boat has landed on a beach and the migrants have made off and we haven’t apprehended them.”

Mr O’Mahoney and other senior officials are appearing before the committee to give evidence about the recent increase in small boat crossings from France.

According to figures from the PA news agency, the number of migrants to have crossed the sea to Britain this year is now more than 5,600.

The committee is examining the government’s links with agencies in other countries, and its approach to combating the organised crime that helps facilitate crossings.

Home Office officials and others from the National Crime Agency (NCA), Immigration Enforcement and UK Visas and Immigration have been asked to contribute.

Rob Jones from the NCA said social media companies had refused to close some encrypted accounts and closed groups that were suspected of being used by traffickers.

He said: “In the first five months of the year we referred over 1,200 pages related to organised immigration crime to social media companies for closure.

“Of those, 578 were closed and 485 were rejected as not breaching terms and conditions.”

Mr O’Mahoney praised the efforts of his French counterparts, saying: “They are as committed as we are.”

He added: “They have prevented 3,000 people from crossing this year, including yesterday close to 200.”

On Wednesday, he said the French “stopped a very large rib (rigid inflatable boat) with unbelievably 63 people on it from leaving the beach”.

He admitted, however, that the number of crossings is “nowhere near the level that we want it to be”.

He told MPs: “The engagement with the French is occurring at every level from political right through to the front line.

“It’s happening daily, it’s intensive, I am in contact with my interlocutors in France and going there in person.”

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