I could not believe the comments of Immigration Minister Phil Woolas MP on GMTV yesterday morning. People can’t break into Britain he told us. I found his complacency breathtaking. And I know what he said to be untrue from what I saw for myself in Calais last week. And then, in an astonishing U-turn, later on he said it is all a terrible problem after all and that they are going to do (what looks like a very odd) deal with the French. The confusion and incompetence of the Government in managing the security of our borders is scandalous. They're not asking questions of the French on the whole business and on how young children caught up at Calais are treated is profoundly worrying.
I do not write these words lightly. I write them from the perspective of what I have seen with my own eyes. In Dover, where I am the Conservative Parliamentary candidate, there has been much concern about the current situation. So last week I went to Calais to see things for myself and to assess the seriousness of the current refugee situation at first hand. I would urge Mr Woolas to get out and see what’s happening rather than lolling around on the GMTV sofa, awash in a sea of complacency one moment and panicking the next.
Here is what I found. Few I spoke to in the Calais camps had been there for very long, for more then a few months, and no one was planning on heading back to their homeland. So, whatever Mr Woolas might like to think, people are getting in, and it doesn’t take too many weeks or months to do so either. At Calais the Afghans and Iraqis I spoke to told me that it took them about three months on average to get through. Try enough lorries or whatever and eventually you get lucky.
I saw men and young boys only. There were no women. I was given to understand more immediate passage is arranged for women and girls. I spoke to Dominic Fitch, an aid worker, who told me that they see Britain as “El Dorado”, the legendary city of gold. I spoke to Afghans, Iranians and Egyptians who told me “Britain good! Britain good! We go there. We get work.”
And there are a lot of people. Right now, there are now over 1,000 and more arrive daily.
The French Government is clearly not doing a lot to help these arrivals settle in France. The living conditions are shocking – really shocking. I went to where food was handed out and there were hundreds of people waiting patiently for soup in the food queue. I saw how they live in a wood called “The Jungle”, in shacks made of cardboard and covered by blankets.
I do not understand why the French stand by while children as young as eight years old live in conditions worse than we would treat dogs in the UK. Kids who try, every night, at great risk, to jump on the back of lorries and break into Britain. We would never allow children to live like this in the UK and I deeply regret that the French do.
Worse, rather than taking the kids into child protection, I heard how the French Police come every day to spray tear gas and smash up the shanty town. Little children tried to explain this to me by rubbing their eyes and other role play that was deeply distressing. I don’t think children should be exposed to this sort of thing. I was told this makes them all redouble their efforts to get into Britain. I do not understand why the French do not take these children to be taken into care. It seems to me that it would be the right thing for France to take these children into care, not leave them at risk. When these children get into Britain, we do look after them as a nation and take them into our protective care. There are 1,000 such unaccompanied minors in Kent alone. Each one costs around £35,000 - £35m in total. This is a cost we can ill afford in the current difficulties that our nation suffers.
Here in the UK when I ask about why the Government doesn’t hold the French to account, I am told that the French talk darkly about throwing our immigration officials out of France which would make it even easier for people to pass illegally into the U.K. I didn’t really believe that. But then, yesterday, the Government suddenly seem to be wanting to sign us up to a deal with the French that is certainly going to cost us all a fortune. It is all very puzzling.
The basic deal seems to go like this. We agree to pay for a camp in Calais (at least I hope it will be in Calais). The people from overseas who want to come to Britain then go through British passport control and into the camp. I am very concerned that this camp will be sort of a “little Britain” in France.
I am worried we will pay for all costs of the camp. It doesn’t seem very fair on us. We will have to pay for the flights home to Iraq and Afghanistan that will be needed to repatriate the people in the camp. We will be forced to take in all the unaccompanied minors that the French should have taken into child protection care ages ago. No doubt we will also end up with people in the camp for ages while their various claims are assessed. Basically, I strongly suspect it will all be as though they’d made it to the UK and got picked up here. All the legal rights and the costs of the whole thing will fall on our shoulders.
I struggle to see how this can be a good deal for Britain, although if I was a French person, I think I would probably be delighted. After all, it won’t be cheap, as we are talking over 1,000 people here.
What I do not understand is why the Government does not ask some searching questions of the French about various international treaty obligations (and what about all the other EU countries they wander through to get to France)? Why does it appear we are agreeing to take on and pay for the whole burden of the situation at Calais from the French?
In Britain, we are decent and we are caring. We are concerned for all people. We are kind and have big hearts. Yet we have done our bit over many years. We are in crisis as a country and we simply cannot afford to take any more. People are losing their jobs, the pressure on public services is very high and we don’t have enough houses to go round. This proposed deal with the French does not look very affordable.
Seeing the desperate situation at Calais I was struck with how I was witnessing the legacy of soft touch border control. Here lay before me the grim reality of Labour’s years of failure. Kids and adults really believing they’d get a better life. I explained that the Government’s economic incompetence has bankrupted the country, that we have no money and people are losing their jobs. They looked stunned. They have been told time and again how we are El Dorado. We know it’s all lies – but it’s in the interest of the evil people traffickers and every nation they pass through to encourage them to come to Britain.
So what should we do about the problem? Here are some ideas:
- Not adopt the entire problem, as the Labour Government plans to do;
- Establish a border police force with strong powers so that we secure our nation and prevent people from illegally breaking into the country;
- Not surrender. Ask searching questions of other EU nations about the various treaty obligations in this area and put the case for those nations organising for people to be sent back to their home countries and/or assessing any claims they may have;
- Insist that the children are properly looked after and ask the French searching questions about why their child protection services are allowing children to live in such terrible conditions; and
- Be strong, consistent and clear – don’t say it’s all fine one moment and a real problem the next. Other countries in Europe and people who wish to come into the UK will not believe we are serious and seek to take advantage. This last may well be shutting to stable door after the horse has bolted, but it’s never too late to start.