UK Border Force chief quizzed over migration crisis

By on 15/10/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Sir Charles Montgomery

British border control staff have stopped almost as many attempts by people entering the UK from the French border in three months as it did over the whole previous year, the chief of Britain’s Border Force has said.

Sir Charles Montgomery, director-general of the Border Force, said that “in three months between April and July we have already intercepted 30,000 attempts”, compared to 40,000 people “we had prevented from making the journey across to the United Kingdom at the end of the last year.”

This represents a three-fold increase from an average monthly figure of around 3,300 last year to 10,000 this year.

Vast numbers of migrants and asylum seekers have made their way across the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015, with the International Organization for Migration estimating that more than 350,000 migrants were detected at the EU’s borders between January and August 2015, compared with 280,000 detected for the whole of 2014. The figures do not include those who got in undetected.

Speaking during a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing last month on the migration crisis, Montgomery said that the increase in interceptions had been down to “a combination” of more people coming through and Montgomery and his team getting better at their job.

He said that, through working with the commercial sector and the French authorities, the Border Force is “getting better at finding individuals who are attempting to cross the border.”

British prime minister David Cameron announced in August that the government would “further boost security by funding additional fencing to shore up as much of the perimeter as necessary.” This, Montgomery said, “proceeded very quickly, and the two kilometres of fencing along both of the [Eurotunnel] platforms in Coquelles and the kilometre from the tunnel entrance has now been completed.”

The fencing, combined with an “increased response” by the Border Force “very significantly increased security presence there, on top of which we have improved the rigour of the search regimes between the French authorities, the Eurotunnel and ourselves and we have made changes in the command and control arrangements,” Montgomery said.

However, committee chair Keith Vaz MP said that most of these people “are just released by the French back into the community to try again.” Once people are deemed to be in the UK illegally and do not claim asylum, they are served with removal notice papers and commonly bailed while arrangements are made for their deportation.

Asked by Vaz how many of the 30,000 people had been “’retreads’ – people who have tried and therefore come back again”, Montgomery said he could not give an accurate figure, because his staff are tasked only to “make these interceptions and to return them to the police and the French authorities.” But he added that “we do see on a daily basis, regular reattempts from any one individual.”

Vaz also asked Montgomery if he would like to see the system which sees “people, who you have done so much work on, suddenly disappear, presumably to offend again”, changed.

Montgomery responded that, “in all these circumstances, I naturally want people who have offended to be brought to justice,” but added that this “has not happened so far.”

Immigration minister James Brokenshire, who was also questioned at the hearing, added that if people who have been granted bail do not come back to the UK to face further criminal procedures, “we have the option of using the European arrest warrants or the European investigation order to support those enquiries.”

Anna Musgrave, advocacy manager for the Refugee Council – the UK charity working with refugees and asylum seekers, told Global Government Forum: “This story clearly demonstrates that Britain must do more to help refugees arriving in Europe.

“As it’s virtually impossible for refugees to reach Britain in order to claim asylum, it’s vital the British government steps forward and proactively offers to help share responsibility for protecting the vulnerable men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores.

“Lives depend on European countries standing alongside each other in solidarity.”

Approached for a response, the Home Office, which oversees the work of the Border Force, referred Global Government Forum to a statement made by home secretary Theresa May last week, in which she said: “The UK will not be taking part in the EU’s relocation scheme but since the Syrian crisis began we have taken more than 5,000 Syrians refugees and asylum seekers and last week announced we would be taking 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament.

“But we will take them direct from camps in the region that’s to ensure we are helping the most vulnerable, to ensure we are dissuading others from making this dangerous journey and also that we break the business model of the cruel criminal gangs of people smugglers.”

The conflict in Syria continues to be by far the biggest driver of the migration crisis, but the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, abuses in Eritrea, as well as poverty in Kosovo are also leading people to look for new lives elsewhere.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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