Channel migrants should face 'red list' quarantine, say Tory MPs

Charles Hymas
·5-min read
Migrants are brought to Dover by Border Force officers after being intercepted in the Channel and handed over by French authorities - STEVE FINN PHOTOGRAPHY
Migrants are brought to Dover by Border Force officers after being intercepted in the Channel and handed over by French authorities - STEVE FINN PHOTOGRAPHY

Channel migrants should face "red list" quarantine, Tory MPs have said amid fears that high Covid rates in northern France could be carried into the UK.

As more than 100 migrants reached the UK in two days, the MPs urged the Home Office to tighten quarantine restrictions on them to match the "enforced" self-isolation imposed on arrivals from the 33 "red list" countries linked to the new South African and Brazil variant.

Covid rates in northern France are up to 15 times those in Dover, while there is concern that without knowing the routes that migrants, including Africans, took to reach the UK, it raises the risk of new variants entering Britain. Migrants are currently housed in hotels in and around Dover.

Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, said: "I would like to see a compulsory period of quarantine in order to reduce the transmission risk when the countries of origin cannot be properly identified and confirmed.

"It should be similar to the quarantine imposed on people returning from high-risk countries. The same approach should be applied to people who are arriving illegally and the assumption should be that they may have travelled through a higher-risk country."

Under hotel quarantine, arrivals from "red list" countries have to remain in their rooms, with meals served to their doors. They can only leave with permission to exercise or to smoke supervised by security guards who patrol the hotel 24/7 and are also tested for Covid on days two and day eight.

Ex-minister Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and a member of the Home Affairs Committee, said: "The Home Office needs to apply at least the same quarantine restrictions as they do for people from 'red list' countries, not least because of the infection rate in northern France.

"That's not happening. They have been sending them to Brooke House [Removal Centre, near Gatwick] as well, which is not geared up to deal with boat migrants. Others have been at liberty to wander as they wish. Absolutely, they need to be subject to the same regime."

Dunkirk's Covid rate has risen from 658 to 901 cases per 100,000 of the population in a week, while the Pas-de-Calais region is 340 per 100,000 and the Calais region 294 per 100,000. This compares with Dover's 66.9 per 100,000, down 19.4 per cent on last week.

One in 20 new Covid-19 cases in France are estimated to be the South African or Brazilian variant, rising to up to 25 per cent of new cases in Meurthe-et-Moselle, around Nancy, in north-east France.

Migrants have made use of the spring-like weather to mount a series of crossings in the past two days, with 49 out of more than 170 who attempted it on Monday reaching English shores.

About 70 got to the south coast on Tuesday, including 20 packed onto a black rigid hulled inflatable boat with an outboard engine. They landed on Walmer beach, near Deal in Kent.

Although about 70 per cent of those attempting the crossing are being prevented from doing so, the numbers reaching the UK are at similar record rates as last year despite an extra £28 million UK Government cash for the French to increase police on their beaches.

Migrants arriving on February 23 in Dover, Kent - Steve Finn
Migrants arriving on February 23 in Dover, Kent - Steve Finn

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is likely to be questioned over the fresh surge in crossings when she appears before the Home Affairs committee on Wednesday. She has urged the French to take back migrants at sea rather than escort them into British waters.

The Home Office said Channel migrants arriving in the UK were placed in isolation for 10 days and anyone who was symptomatic was taken to designated accommodation and tested.

Accommodation has been complicated by fire damage to the Napier barracks, in Folkestone, after migrants "set about destroying" it because they objected to not being moved from the site after a Covid outbreak.

Claire Moseley, the founder of the charity Care4Calais, said this week's surge in migrants had taken place despite a crackdown by the French authorities which has seen trees chopped down to prevent camps, the confiscation of tents and migrants moved on every day.

"The French authorities have given it all they have got. People have been forced to sleep in shopping centre carparks, disused petrol stations and under the few bridges that haven’t had barbed wire installed," said Ms Moseley.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Since the start of the year, through the joint operational and intelligence deployment shared by our two countries, the French authorities have prevented 70 per cent of attempted Channel crossings.

“The Government continues to undertake substantial measures to tackle this unacceptable problem of illegal migration. In January we introduced new rules which mean we can treat asylum claims as inadmissible if they have travelled through safe countries to get to the UK.

“Criminals are exploiting migrants for profit and are selling false dreams of life in the UK. That is why we are pursuing the facilitators behind these crossings, returning migrants who have no right to stay in the UK to safe countries and continuing to do everything we can to make this route unviable.”