Desperate people who cross Channel aren’t ‘genuine refugees’ claims Sajid Javid

Desperate people who travel from France to Britain are not "genuine asylum seekers", the Home Secretary has suggested.

Sajid Javid was branded "utterly disgusting" by charities and Labour after he claimed if people were fleeing war or persecution, they would settle in the "first safe country" they arrive in.

By his definition, that would suggest not one refugee who has crossed the English Channel whether in a boat, truck or train is "genuine" – even if they fled persecution – simply because they were in France first.

And he warned once people reach the UK and claim asylum, "we will do everything we can to make sure that you are often not successful" – which prompted Labour to accuse him of breaking Geneva Convention.

Mr Javid made the hardline statement after tripling Border Force patrol boats (from one to three) and visiting the port of Dover today.

Just over 100 people, mostly Iranian, have been detained trying to cross the Channel in dangerous dinghies since Christmas Day.

In total 539 people crossed the Straits in 2018, with 80% making the journey in the last three months of the year.

Critics say this pales in insignificance compared to 10,000 people picked up in the Mediterranean over two days in 2016.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a more welcoming approach, tweeting: "We have a duty to reach out the hand of humanity."

But Mr Javid said "almost every case" of a crossing in 2018 went on to seek asylum in the UK, adding: "A question has to be asked.

"If you are a genuine asylum seeker why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country that you arrived in?

"Because France is not a country where anyone would argue it is not safe in anyway whatsoever.

"And if you are genuine then why not seek asylum in your first safe country?"

Mr Javid later appeared to suggest people’s asylum claims would be turned down to deter others from crossing the Channel.

He said that anyone who made it to the UK would see an asylum request processed "in the normal way".

But pointing out that the journey across the world’s busiest shipping lane was highly perilous and being undertaken by children as young as nine, Mr Javid continued: "It’s incredibly dangerous, please do not do that, you are taking your life into your own hands.

"Also if you do somehow make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure that you are often not successful because we need to break that link, and to break that link means we can save more lives."

Labour whips said on Twitter: "Is it really the policy of this government to breach the Geneva Convention?

"Do we no longer respect international law?"

Labour MP Stella Creasy branded the Home Secretary’s claims "utterly disgusting".

She said: "The asylum system in France is completely deadlocked and I fear deliberately so- they should be challenged on that. But none of that means Britain can absolve itself of responsibility to refugees."

Paul Hook, the head of campaigns at Refugee Action, said: "These are people first and foremost and they deserve a humanitarian response."

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, added: "People only attempt perilous journeys like crossing the Channel because they are desperate."

Speaking on a visit to Dover, Mr Javid defended calling a "major incident" and cutting short a family holiday to South Africa.

Following talks with high-level officials on Monday, Mr Javid redeployed two cutters from overseas to join HMC Vigilant, which is already patrolling off the South coast.

He also pledged:

– Better co-operation between French and UK law enforcement agencies;

– More work on disrupting attempts to cross the Channel "both directly, but also in more covert ways";

– The Government doing "everything we can" to ensure migrants are returned to France where possible;

But the Home Secretary acknowledged that if Border Force vessels pick up migrants in British waters, they would be taken to a port in Britain.

On Wednesday he said the UK had to send a strong message to trafficking gangs that they "won’t succeed and we won’t allow people to succeed".

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