Recently 68 illegal immigrants, including 15 children and 2 pregnant women, were found in the back of four lorries at the Harwich International Port in my constituency. This was one of the largest ever discoveries of an attempted illegal entry into the UK.
When I heard about this I immediately visited the port to meet our local Border Force team. We discussed the pressures they face in their efforts to catch illegal immigrants entering the country. I know Border Force does a fantastic job in Harwich. However, the Port is only able to search about 6% of the vehicles entering the UK each year. This is because they have to prioritise checking individuals who could pose a terrorist threat to the country.
They do not know, and cannot know, how many unchecked vehicles might contain undetected illegal immigrants. They need more man-power and resources, and I made this case to the Minister in parliament. However, deterring illegal immigrants from trying to enter the UK required more than just these additional resources.
People trying to illegally enter the UK are as much victims of people-traffickers as they are seeking to exploit the system. Traffickers are organised criminals, profiteering from the desperation of others, and they show a complete disregard for human life. This is a slave trade which must be targeted and shut down by police agencies globally.
On the front line, we need to give more support and resources to the Border Force. The UK does not have the same type of relationship with Holland as we do with other countries. In France we can operate on the ground in Calais, before sea journeys are made. We should explore having this sort of relationship with Holland to make the job easier for Border Force.
Internationally, the Prime Minister needs to tackle this issue with the EU during his renegotiations before the referendum. Our disagreements with the EU over immigration and the movement of people must not be left off the table. We also need to make sure our international aid and foreign policy help create stability in countries where immigrants begin their journeys.
We need to stop people from risking their lives to enter our country. If we want to stop this then we need to make it clear that if you do get into the UK illegally, you will be swiftly returned to your own country. We must honour obligations for legitimate asylum claims. However, abuse of the European Convention on Human Rights unreasonably inflates successful asylum claims. Addressing this is another piece of the puzzle in reducing illegal entries into the UK.
These issues will all be debated at length over the coming year in parliament and I will certainly be drawing on our experiences in Harwich during these debates.