In Depth

Why everybody’s talking about Home Office failings on immigration

House of Commons inquiry launched after record number of migrants attempted to reach UK shores

A record-breaking number of migrants attempted to reach British shores on Wednesday, according to newly-published Home Office data.

At least 409 people crossed the Channel in small boats, with hundreds intercepted on route by British and French coastguards and others making it to shore.

The tally is almost double the last record, set on 6 August, when 235 people made the crossing, and has prompted the Home Affairs Select Committee to call on senior Home Office officials to explain their failure to tackle the issue in a hearing today.

So what exactly is happening in the Channel and is the Home Office doing enough?

What is the current situation in the Channel?

Thousands of people have attempted to reach the UK during the present migrant crisis, with a single-month record for crossing attempts set in August, when 1,468 attempted the dangerous journey.

The regular tumbling of records has brought into sharp focus claims made by Home Secretary Priti Patel last year that such crossings would become an “infrequent phenomenon” by spring 2020.

The Ministry of Defence has made efforts to curb the influx and last week offered the services of an Army drone previously used in Afghanistan to fly over the Channel to monitor migrant boats, The Telegraph says.

Boris Johnson yesterday told MPs that he has “a great deal of sympathy” for parents so desperate that they are putting their children in dinghies and even paddling pools to cross the Channel, but said these families risk falling prey to criminal gangs, vowing to change the law to help tackle the crisis.

Immigration minister Chris Philp told MPs that the Home Office is “working closely with our French colleagues to prevent these crossings”. Measures include “patrols of the beaches by French officers, some of whom we fund, surveillance and intelligence sharing”, he said.

Why is the Home Office under fire?

The Home Office has long faced criticism for its policy relating to migrants and immigration, which has intensified with the current crisis.

In August, Patel vowed make the dangerous route across the Channel “unviable” for migrants, but analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank found “systemic flaws” in Home Office policy. 

These shortcomings are “forcing illegal immigrants to the margins of society, without access to legitimate housing and jobs while they were still not leaving”, The Times says.

Under the so-called “hostile environment” strategy, introduced by Theresa May when she was home secretary, the Home Office has “put the onus on landlords, employers and even hospital staff to check the immigration status of those with whom they have contact”, the paper adds.

Furthermore, the think tank’s analysis showed that the number of migrants leaving the UK voluntarily has fallen since 2014, when most of the policies were introduced.

The Home Affairs Select Committee will today hear from leaders in immigration policy as part of an ongoing inquiry into the crisis, with the committee seeking answers from the government on the precise number of asylum claims and repatriations, as well as its approach to combating organised crime.

The Independent reports that Robert Jones, the National Crime Agency director of threat leadership, and Dan O’Mahoney, the new clandestine Channel threat commander, will appear at the hearing.

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