UK aim to break human trafficking rings 'depends on safe and legal routes' for migrants

Conservative MPs are urging the government to open new ways for persecuted people to join family members in Britain

Migrants on a beach in Dungeness, Kent, after being rescued by a British lifeboat. PA
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Tory backbench MPs have urged the government to get on top of spiralling illegal immigration and open up safe legal routes to deter people from handing over cash to human traffickers.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s plan to break smuggling networks operating in northern France and stop the constant stream of small boats travelling across the English Channel is being torn apart from all angles.

Labour MPs accuse her of taking an unsympathetic approach to the issue while legislators in her own party have argued that she is not doing enough to stamp out the illegal practice.

The government’s handling of the migrant crisis was again in the spotlight this week when four people drowned off the coast of Kent when their boat capsized.

After making a statement on the tragedy in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Ms Braverman was pressed on the lack of safe legal routes on offer to people facing persecution who wish to join family members in Britain.

Some backbench Tories advocated removing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) from UK law as a means of tackling migration issues.

David Simmonds, Tory MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner in west London, said the lack of legal routes is pushing people into the hands of people-trafficking gangs. He used as an example one of his constituents, a woman from Iran, whose family have no legal option to choose when trying to join her in the UK.

“My constituent, who is a successful academic of international standing, came to the UK as a refugee from Iran a couple of years ago,” he said. “For her family in Iran there is no safe and legal route by which they could come to join her in the UK, but should they travel over land and come in a small boat, they stand around a 98 per cent chance under our laws of being granted asylum in the United Kingdom.

“So does [the Home Secretary] acknowledge that the success of our ambition to break the model of the people smugglers, by ensuring that those who come to the UK by irregular means are not successful, depends entirely on the existence of a safe and legal route which if it has not been used can in our law count against those who come here by irregular means?”

UK coastguard responds to migrant emergency in Channel - in pictures

In response, Ms Braverman said “the reality is that the UK will continue to provide safe and legal routes to those refugees in most need” but stressed that admitting all the people who want to live in Britain is out of the question.

She said “the practical truth is that there are 100 million people around the globe who would like to leave their country of residence and potentially come to the United Kingdom”.

“That is simply not possible and therefore we do need an element of control, combined with compassion and generosity, but yes control, fairness and legitimacy that underpins any kind of humanitarian arrangement that we have,” she added.

“I am very proud of the track record that this country and this government has demonstrated over recent years.”

Labour MPs have repeatedly attacked the cabinet minister for her approach to illegal immigration ― one said she is “utterly clueless” and another accused her of using “appalling, wrong and dangerous” terminology.

Ms Braverman claimed that the UK was experiencing an “invasion on our southern coast” from illegal migrants, and said “let’s stop pretending that they are all refugees in distress”.

More than 44,000 people have made the dangerous crossing this year, government figures show.

A British police chief this week said that vulnerable migrants living in hotels for asylum seekers and children's homes are being recruited by criminal gangs to be used as "cannon fodder".

Tory MP Marco Longhi on Wednesday appeared to suggest migrants crossing the Channel “willingly” put themselves at risk as he called for the home secretary to make the Rwanda plan work as a way to deter criminal gangs.

The plan, which has caused controversy among MPs and campaigners, is an immigration policy whereby people identified by UK authorities as being illegal immigrants or asylum seekers will be relocated to Rwanda for processing, asylum and resettlement.

Mr Longhi called the recent drownings of migrants in the Channel an "awful tragedy".

He said MPs are "very keen to blame gangs but it is actually members in this place and their zeal to showcase their altruism who are preventing us stopping the boats on their perilous journeys by not replacing aspects of the Human Rights Act that does not work for us, or even exiting the ECHR".

“Let us remember this ― these are people who willingly put themselves in harm’s way, and criminal gangs would disappear if demand for services went," he added. "When will the home secretary make the Rwanda plan work?”

Ms Braverman has in the past said it is her dream to see flights carrying illegal immigrants leaving the UK bound for the central African nation.

“As he knows, I believe in the ground-breaking partnership that the United Kingdom has struck with Rwanda," she said. "I believe that it is a mutually beneficial arrangement, it is compassionate, it is pragmatic and it will be a big step forward in solving the challenge with which we are grappling.

“It is currently in the courts and we are awaiting a judgment from the High Court which will be due very soon.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Tuesday promised to restart flights to send migrants to Rwanda and introduce new legislation in 2023 to make it “unambiguously clear that if you enter the UK illegally you should not be able to remain here".

Updated: December 15, 2022, 11:20 AM