Covid has made it more difficult to tackle migrant crisis, says Minister

By PA Reporters & Max Channon

The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult to send failed asylum seekers back to the countries from which they came, the Health Secretary has said - as the Government was accused of failing to tackle the migrant crisis.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said on Sunday that at the current rate, more migrants will be travelling to Britain via the English Channel than there are voters in the Home Secretary’s constituency if the Government doesn’t act.

Hundreds more people, including very young children, have made the dangerous Channel crossing to the UK over the weekend.

Adults carrying youngsters and others wrapped in blankets were seen arriving on the south-east coast of England on Saturday with help from lifeboat crews.

While official figures have not been confirmed, it is believed hundreds of people made the journey.

More than 24,700 people have arrived in the UK so far this year after making the Channel crossing in small boats – almost three times the number there were in 2020.

Mr Thomas-Symonds accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of “comprehensively failing” to stem the flow.

He told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC that it was a “dangerous failure”, adding: “And it appears the Prime Minister agrees because he seems to be putting the minister for the Cabinet Office in charge of a review of this.”

The Times reported that Boris Johnson had drafted in Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay to oversee the issue of the rising number of migrants arriving on Britain’s shores.

The newspaper said that the PM was “exasperated” with the situation following a number of strategies failing to bring numbers down.

And Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “And if the rate (of crossings) continues as it is at the moment, if the rate of increase from last year to this year is repeated again next year, we’ll have as many people risking their lives in the Channel as there are people in Priti Patel’s constituency, her incompetence on this issue is dangerous.”

He added: “We need first of all to have a workable deal with the French authorities, which Priti Patel doesn’t have.

“All she’s interested in is diplomatic spats with the French government. That isn’t what we need.”

Meanwhile, French officials said 243 people in difficulty were recovered and brought to safety at the ports of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Dunkirk and Calais.

It is thought at least 10 migrants have died in the past few weeks while trying to make the dangerous crossing.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid defended efforts and said Covid had made things more difficult.

He told Andrew Marr: “We do need new agreements with countries, predominately with the countries where most of the failed asylum seekers are coming from, and those aren’t always European countries, and this Home Secretary has done that, she has signed new agreements and put those in place with countries like India.

“But also I would say that the pandemic has made returning people across the world, across asylum systems, much harder, and we do have to take that into account as well.”

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