UK proposals to introduce hardline measures to discourage refugees and illegal migrants from seeking sanctuary have been met with alarm.
The immigration minister, Chris Philp, called for migrants caught crossing the Channel to be fingerprinted and face “real consequences”, before a meeting next week with his French counterparts.
Suggested measures to make crossing the Channel “unviable”, outlined in an article for the Daily Telegraph, are also understood to include taking migrants into custody for breaking the law and back to French ports rather than to the UK.
“These crossings are not only dangerous and illegal, but totally unnecessary,” Philp wrote. “Migrants who set off from France have travelled through safe EU states with well-run asylum systems.
“Genuine refugees should claim asylum there, not risk their lives at the hands of criminals, and break the law by seeking to enter the UK by illicit means. The government is determined to make this route unviable.”
He added that the UK wants the French to ensure that migrants caught attempting to sail cannot do so again by removing them from Calais and providing “options to seek protection in France or return to their home countries”.
Philp continued: “Illegal migrants need to be fingerprinted so they know that once detected, they face real consequences if they try to cross again. This will help us break up the gangs that facilitate these crossings.”
The schools minister, Nick Gibb, told BBC Breakfast that ministers were “looking at how we use maritime assets to prevent people from crossing the Channel”.
Tony Smith, a former director-general of Border Force, said smugglers were exploiting a law that obliges a country’s vessels to rescue people once they enter the waters of their jurisdiction.
He called for Britain to negotiate an agreement with France to allow people to be instantly returned. “Once they are under our jurisdiction we will immediately face asylum claims,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
It comes after a spokesman for the home secretary, Priti Patel, confirmed on Friday that navy support to patrol the Channel for migrant boats was being considered. A Ministry of Defence source described the idea as “completely potty” and “inappropriate and unnecessary”.
They added: “It’s beyond absurd to think that we should be deploying multimillion-pound ships and elite soldiers to deal with desperate people barely staying afloat on rubber dinghies in the Channel. It could potentially put people’s lives at even greater risk.”
Jack Straw, a former Labour home secretary, urged against pushing migrants back to France, saying it would not work and warning of a potentially deadly capsizing.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It will only take one of these dinghies to capsize and everybody to drown, which is perfectly feasible, for there to be a hullabaloo including in the Conservative party and for the policy to have to be reversed so I wouldn’t go down that route.
“The only way to solve this is for us to say to the French, ‘Yes, these people are fleeing France and to that extent they will cease to be your problem but it is a major problem for you because you’ve got organised criminality which is extending into drugs, into people trafficking and much else besides.”
The Times reported that ministers are considering blocking migrant boats in the Channel before they enter British waters, modelled on Australian tactics used against migrants arriving by boats from neighbouring Indonesia.
Charities have criticised the lack of legal routes to claim asylum in the UK and called for safe and legal routes to do so.
Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “It’s deeply troubling the government is trying to shirk its responsibility to help people fleeing from some of the world’s most violent and oppressive countries.
“Britain is better than this. Refugees deserve better than this. We must step up alongside other countries and make our contribution to the global refugee crisis.
“The government must urgently restart its hugely successful refugee resettlement programme, on hold since March, and make a long-term commitment to this. It must also finally reform the restrictive rules on family reunion so that families are not kept apart.”
More than 350 migrants arrived on UK shores on Thursday and Friday – and Kent county council revealed it had taken 400 unaccompanied migrant children into its care this year.