Migrants in France ‘waiting for Labour government’

Asylum seekers near Dunkirk, where some said they were worried about being deported to RWanda if they succeeded in reaching the UK
Asylum seekers near Dunkirk, where some said they were worried about being deported to Rwanda if they succeeded in reaching the UK - Ali Arkady

Migrants in northern France say they are waiting for a Labour government before crossing the Channel after Sir Keir Starmer’s pledge  to scrap the Rwanda scheme.

Speaking to The Telegraph, some of the migrants said they would not take the risk of crossing the Channel in small boats until they knew there was a new government. Sir Keir has vowed to scrap the Rwanda deportation flights on “day one” if Labour wins power.

Most migrants in the Grand-Synth camp near Dunkirk who were contacted by The Telegraph knew about the Rwanda scheme and said they were worried about the threat of being deported.

While some said they would still attempt the crossing if they got the chance, others said they would prefer to wait until after the election, which takes place on July 4.

The migrants’ comments came as Rishi Sunak said on Monday: “They are queuing up in Calais waiting for a Starmer government so they can come here and stay here.”

Home Office figures showed that a record number of migrants crossed the Channel in the first six months of this year, despite the supposed deterrent of deportation to Rwanda.

Some 12,901 people have reached the UK this year – up 17 per cent on last year and up eight per cent on the previous record in 2022.

Writing for The Telegraph, James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, said the migrants’ comments provided the first evidence that “smuggling gangs are already pricking up their ears in eager anticipation of a Labour government that would guarantee sanctuary to illegal migrants”.

He said the boats could only be stopped by having the deterrent of Rwanda and a block on asylum claims in the UK rather than Labour’s plans to allow migrants to claim asylum, which would “instantly increase the appeal of making the perilous journey across the Channel”.

Also writing for The Telegraph, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said that if Mr Sunak believed the Rwanda scheme would work, he would not have called an election before a flight had taken off.

She said it was “a con” that would only cover one per cent of asylum seekers, creating a “hotels amnesty”, with migrants housed in them indefinitely.

She pledged that Labour’s new border security command, with 1,000 new police, MI5 intelligence officers and investigators would smash the people-smuggling gangs and said new security partnerships with other European police forces would “stop the boats reaching the French coast in the first place and get smugglers behind bars.”

It comes as the two politicians go head-to-head for the first time in the election campaign on LBC to debate their immigration policies on Tuesday.

Migrants walk from Dunkirk to Plage du Petit Fort Philippe Gravelines in the hope of crossing the Channel
Migrants walk from Dunkirk to Plage du Petit Fort Philippe Gravelines in the hope of crossing the Channel - Ali Arkady

On Monday night, Mr Sunak went on the attack, claiming that Labour’s illegal migration “amnesty” and “sweetheart deal” with the EU would see the UK taking even more illegal migrants from the continent.

He said: “So that’s the clear choice at this election – the Conservatives, who have shown they will take the bold action necessary to break the model of the smuggling gangs and stop  the boats, and Labour, who would make us the soft-touch illegal migration capital of the world and take us back to square one.”

Next week’s election comes ahead of an expected summer surge in crossings, with July, August and September typically peak months.

Mr Sunak had pencilled in July 24 for the first flight to Rwanda but, with Labour 20 points ahead in the polls and more than 12 legal actions lodged against it, the chances of it taking off look slim.

In northern France, a 43-year-old Peshmerga fighter from Iraq who was imprisoned by ISIS told The Telegraph that he was waiting until after the election to travel to Britain. He said he had spent three months and 17 days in captivity after being arrested and captured by the terror group.

“It’s better to wait for two weeks, I would like to wait for two weeks,” he added. “We need to wait until the new government has arrived. It’s [Rwanda] a really bad decision, it’s more politics and business. Have some mercy on the refugees.”

A charity providing aid to asylum seekers in northern France has said it does not believe that a change in government will affect the refugees
A charity providing aid to asylum seekers in northern France has said it does not believe that a change in government will affect the refugees - Ali Arkady

Another, a 17-year-old Syrian boy who injured his hand in a failed boat launch explained that he would delay if he could make the choice.

“We don’t have the decision to go, we follow smugglers, it is up to them. But as a feeling, yes it is better to stay two weeks in case there is a new government, which is more safe,” he said.

“If the decision was with me I would not go [until Rwanda is dropped]. The smugglers, they look at us not as a human but as money, as a business.

“They do not care if they send us now, before or after. They just need the money, they do not care about that. But absolutely, they know the situation and it could be better for them.”

An elderly Iraqi woman selling cigarettes, drinks and biscuits from a shopping trolling to raise money for a crossing, said she had been waiting a “very long time” to cross.

“I will not go until the day they make the right decision to destroy Rwanda. I am looking forward to a new government. If things change, I will go,” she said.

One migrant at the camp said 'we are praying that this Rwanda plan should end'
One migrant at the camp said 'we are praying that this Rwanda plan should end' - Ali Arkady

A 24-year-old student from Sudan, who was studying English, said that although he thought that the Rwanda scheme had made many migrants more apprehensive about crossing, he would take a boat if he had a chance because he had been waiting since October.

“This Rwanda plan has always given me pressure. We are praying that this Rwanda plan should end. If the new prime minister comes and stops the plan, that is it,” he said.

“When I heard that this man [Mr Sunak] was going to fall, and not going to win this election, I was like, you know, this is going to be amazing, this is going to be incredible. Most of us are still here due to the fear we have about Rwanda. We are praying for the new government to come.”

A 22-year-old Iranian woman accused the Government of brutalising refugees. “I studied six years in Iran, I can do something well there [in the UK]. They put us in the same category as criminals and drug dealers and traffickers. Rishi Sunak, we don’t like him,” she said.

Some believed their chances of staying in Britain depended on the strength of an asylum claim, whether or not Rwanda flights took off.

“If you ask anybody, nobody cares about Rwanda. When you go there [to Britain], everything is dependent on your case,” said an Ethiopian man. “The reason to go there depends on the reason you escaped from your country. If the Government does not accept your case, you cannot do anything.”

Sarah Berry, the treasurer at Roots, a charity that provides aid to asylum seekers in northern France, said she did not believe “for one moment” that a change in government would affect the refugees.

“Rwanda hasn’t been successful, not least because it hasn’t happened but has cost millions yet again in wishing it so,” she said. “The proof is in the fact that people are still trying, and some are dying, to reach the UK.”

There are concerns, however, that an election of a hard-Right government in France could herald tougher migration policies that could spur more crossings.

Pierre Roques, the general delegate of l’Auberge des Migrants, said: “I don’t think that a change in the British government will have any effect on crossings. But if a far-Right government came to power in France, it’s possible that more people would try to reach the UK after being badly received in France.”