Sajid Javid suggested migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats are not ‘genuine’ asylum seekers today.
In remarks that provoked a furious backlash, the Home Secretary vowed to do everything necessary to stop people attempting the perilous crossing after a surge over the past three months.
Mr Javid said Britain would also try to block asylum requests wherever possible in a bid to try and break the link between people getting here and being allowed to stay.
He warned those who tried to leave France and get to Britain illegally may not be real refugees because they were already ‘perfectly safe in France’.
Labour MP Stella Creasy said the threats were ‘utterly disgusting’ while Liberal Democrat Ed Davey accused the Home Secretary of being ‘nasty’.
Before Mr Javid spoke out Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insisted today that Europe cannot ‘close its borders’ as he spoke about the migrant crisis facing the continent.
Sajid Javid visited Dover today (pictured aboard HMC Searcher) to meet Border Force officers policing the Channel for people trying to cross from France.
The Home Secretary, who cut short a family holiday to deal with the growing crisis, met Border Force officials in Dover today
Mr Javid visited Dover today to meet Border Force staff patrolling the Channel following a surge in the number of people trying to get into Britain in small boats.
He boarded the HMC Searcher, one of the cutters tasked with patrolling the south coast, for a briefing from crews on the lookout for migrants.
The Border Force has five cutters in total, with HMC Vigilant and HMC Searcher currently in the Channel.
Earlier this week Mr Javid changed his position and announced that two cutters in the Mediterranean – HMC Valiant and Protector – would be redeployed to the south coast. The fifth, HMC Seeker, is in Gibraltar.
Mr Javid cut short a family holiday in South Africa over Christmas to deal with the growing crisis after declaring it to be a ‘major incident’.
Speaking in Dover today, Mr Javid said: ‘A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country that you arrived in?
‘Because France is not a country where anyone would argue it is not safe in anyway whatsoever, and if you are genuine then why not seek asylum in your first safe country?’
Mr Javid said there had been a ‘step change’ in attempts to cross the Channel in the past three months and vowed to do everything necessary to both protect life and deter illegal journeys in the first place.
While admitting everyone who does reach the UK will be processed in the normal way, Mr Javid said: ‘We will do everything we can to make sure you are not successful because we need to break that link.’
The Home Secretary said in a recent case a nine year old boy was on a boat making the ‘incredibly dangerous’ journey.
He warned: ‘Please do not do that’.
Labour MP Stella Creasy said the threats were ‘utterly disgusting’ as she lashed Mr Javid’s response to migrants crossing the Channel
Ms Creasy said: ‘Utterly disgusting from Sajid Javid as he normalises anti refugee rhetoric online.
‘The asylum system in France is completely deadlocked and I fear deliberately so – they should be challenged on that.
‘But none of that means Britain can absolve itself of responsibility to refugees.’
She added: ‘People will continue to die and be at mercy of traffickers all the time politicians pretend to play tough for votes rather than recognise why people flee. Be a voice for humanity.
‘Be a voice for treating people fairly. Be a voice for safe passage. Be a voice against the hate.’
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mr Davey said: ‘The Home Secretary’s comments about refugees crossing the Channel show that the Tories’ nasty, hostile environment is alive and well.
‘Many of these people have fled war in Syria or persecution in Iran. For the Home Secretary to suggest – on the basis of no evidence whatsoever – that they are not ‘genuine’ asylum seekers is completely unacceptable.
‘For the Government to summarily deny their claims would be unlawful and inhumane.’
Earlier, Mr Corbyn said it is ‘obviously necessary to work with other countries’, but highlighted the ‘humanitarian aspect’ of those people trying to cross into the UK.
The Labour leader said: ‘They are the product of wars, they are the product of human rights abuses, they are the product of environmental disasters.
‘Europe cannot close its borders to them.’
There has been a surge in the number of migrants attempting to navigate the Channel’s busy shipping lanes, often in small boats which cannot be detected by radar.
This year, 539 migrants have attempted to travel to the UK on small boats, with children as young as nine risking the crossing.
Of these, 434 made their attempts in the last three months of the year.
Some 227 migrants were intercepted by the French before they made it to the UK.
Mr Javid was briefed by staff during his visit to the Kent coast today to view the response to the migrant ‘crisis’
HMC Searcher (pictured) is one of four cutter ships patrolling UK waters looking for people trying to cross from France
The Home Office revealed a group of 12 migrants, including a 10-year-old child, were detained after landing on a Kent beach on Monday morning.
As well as redeploying the two cutters from overseas to join HMC Vigilant which is already in the area, on Monday the Home Secretary pledged:
- Better co-operation between French and UK law enforcement agencies
- More work on disrupting attempts to cross the Channel ‘both directly but also in more covert ways’
- The Government was doing ‘everything we can’ to ensure migrants are returned to France where possible.
Mr Javid acknowledged that if Border Force vessels pick up migrants in British waters, they would be taken to port in Britain.
Mr Javid, who held talks with Whitehall chiefs on Monday, said the ‘major incident’ remained a ‘very serious concern’.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes warned just days ago that deploying additional craft could act as a ‘magnet’ for migrants by encouraging them to risk the crossing.
Mr Javid acknowledged there was a ‘balance to be struck’ in patrolling the seas.
Speaking after a meeting with senior officials from the National Crime Agency and Border Force, he said: ‘It’s both about protecting human life but also about protecting our borders.
‘When it comes to human life, clearly I want to make sure that we are doing all we can to protect people.
‘We must remember that this is one of the most treacherous stretches of water that there is, 21 miles with people taking grave risk, really putting their lives into their own hands by taking this journey.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured today at Kings Cross) insisted today that Europe cannot ‘close its borders’ as he spoke about the migrant crisis facing the continent
The Home Secretary’s actions were welcomed by Dover’s Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, who had urged the authorities to ‘get a grip’ on the situation.
Mr Elphicke, who has asked Mr Javid to come to Dover so meet those dealing with the issue, said: ‘I welcome the move to bring back our Border Force cutters to help maintain safety and security on our borders, this is something I have been calling for and am delighted the Home Secretary has listened.
‘This makes it even more important we put renewed pressure on the French government to play their role in tackling this crisis, preventing these crossings from happening at all.’
British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson urged the Government to provide migrants with ‘safe alternatives’ to the ‘harrowing’ Channel crossing.
He said: ‘People only attempt perilous journeys like crossing the Channel because they are desperate.
‘It is deeply concerning that men, women and children feel they have no choice but to put their lives at risk in their search for a safe place to live.’