Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham column: Our borders need to be welcoming but secure

Over recent weeks we have seen the number of small boats trying to cross the English Channel rise significantly.

And I know that people across the country, including here in Burnley, are concerned about what is being done to stop them.

Last week I joined the Home Secretary and a number of other colleagues to discuss the issue, ensuring we have a plan in place to address it and find out what has caused the increase.

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Part of the reason it has gone up so significantly is the success of our interceptions on other routes.

Burnley MP Antony HigginbothamBurnley MP Antony Higginbotham
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

For years the easiest route into the UK for those wanting to enter illegally has been using lorries.

But we saw the tragic human cost of this. It was less than a year ago when we saw the harrowing news that almost 40 Vietnamese people had lost their life whilst trying to enter the UK through this method.

Since then an enormous amount of work has taken place to make that route unfeasible; saving the lives of those who would have attempted it and resulting in the arrest and prosecution of gangs that sold it.

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The result of that crackdown, however, is the increase in crossings that we have seen by sea. And sadly, this week, we learned of the death of a 16-year-old Sudanese migrant as they too tried to cross the Channel.

These cases show us why we must shut-down illegal routes in. The gangs that use them have no care for the lives of those they sell a dream to for thousands of pounds, instead seeking only to make money whatever the consequence.

I was therefore pleased to see that this issue is now being tackled by a new Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, a position held by a former Royal Marine with extensive experience in maritime security.

His role will be to work not only on what measures the UK can take, but also to work with the French authorities.

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That will include additional patrols of the beaches where boats are launched from, surveillance of the Channel from the air, and tackling the gangs that operate across northern France.

I have always said that our borders need to be welcoming but secure. Welcoming to those who come to make the UK their home through the correct route, but secure so that we can stop the exploitation of illegal routes that criminals thrive on.

For those fleeing persecution anywhere in the world, the UK will always be willing and able to help.

We have one of the most generous refugee resettlement programmes ensuring that we protect the most vulnerable.

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And this extends across Europe too, where there are opportunities for those who need it to ask for help and safety.

But for those who want to enter the UK for economic reasons we must ensure that the only route in is one which is safe and legal. That is something which both I and the Home Secretary are committed to achieving.