Alasdair Palmer

How to tackle illegal migration

Immigration policy is a mess. For at least the past decade, it has been characterised by unrealistic targets and broken promises. Every government has promised to reduce dramatically the number of foreigners who arrive here in search of work, or justice, or hope. Every government has failed. The numbers keep going up. David Cameron promised to reduce immigration to below 100,000 a year. So did Theresa May. Boris Johnson claimed his version of Brexit would see immigration fall precipitously. None of them came close to keeping their word.

Curbing immigration, both legal and illegal, is an immensely difficult problem, so perhaps it is not surprising that successive governments have failed. What is surprising is the stupidity of many of the policies which they have claimed would succeed.

In April, Johnson announced that his solution to the growing problem of illegal immigration was that the Royal Navy would take control of monitoring migrants crossing the Channel. The Navy would intercept the boats, rescue the passengers and take them to England, where it would be determined whether they were entitled to stay.

The policy has had the opposite effect to the one intended: far from deterring people–smugglers, it encouraged them. Since it was announced there have been more, not fewer, boats of migrants attempting to cross the Channel, and in less seaworthy boats. People-smugglers can offer places in over-crowded boats knowing that those boats will be picked up by Navy ships and the migrants taken safely to England. From a people-smuggler’s point of view, and indeed from an illegal migrant’s, what’s not to like? Once they get to the UK, many migrants picked up from boats in the Channel don’t wait to find out whether they are entitled to settle here. They just disappear into the black economy.

Migrants, from various origins, attempt to cross the Channel illegally into Britain, near the northern French city of Gravelines, 11 July 2022 (Getty Images)

The threat that an illegal migrant will be detained is increasingly empty; there is nowhere to put them

The idea of using the Navy to reduce the number of illegal migrants crossing the Channel is almost – but not quite – as silly as the idea of transporting illegal immigrants to Rwanda.

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