Mo Hussein is a former Home Office Special Adviser.
In 2016, tackling cross-Channel migration, bolstering the shared border in Calais, and preserving the Le Touquet agreement were high on the agenda at the Home Office.
There were trips to France, we spoke a lot about strengthening Franco-British co-operation in the Calais area, about how this was a shared responsibility, and we supported our French counterparts as they dismantled the “Jungle” camp.
We also made significant financial investment in Calais, boosting the infrastructure and the hardware to secure ports and the Channel Tunnel, in the tens of millions of pounds, to try and ensure the overall longer term security of the border.
And here we are again. A familiar cycle of heading to France for meetings with French counterparts, talk of stepping up co-ordinated activity, briefing and counter-briefing on what each side thinks the other should be doing more of, whose problem it really is, and who will pay for it. And also the symbolism and the visual reassurance that travelling to the UK’s front line and seeing for oneself the situation on the ground, or on the water, provides.
Back in 2016, we also worked to strengthen co-operation between the UK and France against illegal immigration networks targeting the UK, with the stated aim of definitively ending all criminal activity carried out by people-smugglers.
While progress has been made, there is clearly so much more to be done in terms of dismantling and bearing down on these smuggling networks, and this is where the renewed efforts of the UK and French Governments should double down.
This is a twisted business model that callously profits from human misery, whereby organised crime gangs exploit the vulnerable, at a high cost, with complete disregard for human life or safety. Smashing this business model goes hand in hand with efforts to tackle the horrors of modern slavery and human trafficking, which illegal immigration helps to fuel.
This trade in human suffering by its nature also serves to divide people into the those who can afford to pay the smugglers and those who can’t. Or those who are physically able to make these treacherous journeys and those who are not. So what about the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, people needing urgent medical help, women and children at risk, the people who don’t have the money, or the physical ability to leave their war-torn regions?
In 2018, I had the opportunity to accompany the then Home Secretary to Lebanon, where we saw for ourselves the human impact of the Syria crisis, and talk directly to refugees who had fled Syria about the challenges they face.
People with stories and aspirations, families uprooted, their lives turned upside down, forced to leave behind their homes, jobs, schools, friends and way of life. At the time, over 10,000 vulnerable refugees who had fled Syria, nearly half of whom were children, were rebuilding their lives in safety in the UK, as part of the Government’s commitment to bring 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees who have Syria to neighbouring countries, directly from the region to the UK by 2020.
By the end of 2019, 19,353 people had been resettled under this initiative, leaving the Government to both meet this target and set out plans to continue this scheme but take refugees from beyond the Middle East and North Africa, providing emergency resettlement where lives are at risk.
We used to see the images of the terrible human suffering in Syria much more on our TV screens. We see these less now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still happening, either there on in other places. The current focus and attention on the Channel should not overwhelm bandwidth, and distract the Home Office, or us as a country, from the crucial task of bringing the most vulnerable refugees to the UK, directly from the region they are in, while supporting the majority of refugees who remain in the region and their host countries.