As the trickle of migrants crossing the Channel in overcrowded and unsafe inflatable boats has started to become a flood, so the correspondence in my email inbox has increased by the same proportions.
Though some correspondence is informed and sensitive, for the most part that is not the case: correspondents simply demand that it be stopped and that arrivals be sent back.
It reminds me of King Canute ordering the incoming tide to turn.
Sending the arrivals back does require the agreement of the jurisdiction to which we are going to send them: what reason would France have for agreeing to that?
We are already paying France a small fortune for the policing their beaches to prevent boats from launching, which has had some modest success.
Once launched however, France interprets international maritime law as preventing them from interfering unless the boats ask to be rescued. France sees its role as safely shepherding the migrants into UK waters where we will intercept them. A senior member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee has announced that France’s interpretation of maritime law is perverse and they must change it -so, we are back to King Canute: we hold no power over France to make them change (unless, of course, we can think of a sanction to make the French miserable, whose effects won’t rebound equally upon us).
Now that crossing the Channel in small boats has been established as a successful means of illegal entry to UK, the numbers attempting a crossing are bound to increase until migrants assess that it is not worth undertaking the expense or encountering the danger because the probability is that they will be expelled, or that they will be held in conditions less eligible than their current circumstances.
We’ve already encountered the difficulty of finding somewhere to expel them to, so we are left with the ‘ Australian’ approach of deterring them on the principle of less eligibility. The Australians send them to detention centres in Papua New Guinea. This is controversial even in Australia and I rather suspect that the British public would not have the stomach for it.
Nevertheless, the Borders Bill currently going through Parliament specifies a 4 year prison term for illegal entry and empowers ministers to implement detention centres for the processing of asylum claims overseas.
I seriously doubt that we will fill our -already bursting- prisons with tens of thousands of migrants, including the prospect of separating families.
Equally, it is not clear what sort of inducement would be required to persuade another country to house our ‘processing centres’ and whether they would turn out to be as grizzly and embarrassing as Australia’s.
That we need to identify a workable solution, I do not doubt. Clearly, our generous resettlement schemes are being overtaken by unlawful migrants who, no matter what they may have endured and from what horrors they have fled, have had sufficient sums to purchase the services of criminal gangs to deliver them to our shores.
Of course, we could reduce the attraction of the crossings, just making them so much more dangerous by withdrawing our cutters and patrols altogether. I’m confident that this would not be the answer. I wonder how many constituents would be emailing me then, when the bodies of children start washing up on the beach.