A former child refugee condemned the “common sense group” of Tory backbenchers for lacking “humanity and decency”, after it urged Priti Patel to get tougher – including by sending in royal navy warships.
A letter sent by a 25-strong group of MPs and peers reads: “It is strikingly clear that, rather than a ‘hostile environment’, invading migrants have been welcomed.”
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The group also claims those arriving are being put up in “expensive hotels” and enjoying “immediate access” to financial help – although cash support for an asylum seeker is just £37.75 per week.
Gulwali Passarlay, who wrote an acclaimed book about escaping Afghanistan when he was a 12-year-old boy, said: “They have to look at themselves and have humanity and have decency.”
On the refugees crossing in fragile dinghies, he said: “These are people who are desperate, who have seen violence in countries, they are fleeing from places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.”
And Lisa Doyle, the director of advocacy at the Refugee Council, said: “We need our MPs and peers to do better than this.
“It’s time to drop the soundbites and the scapegoating, and implement reasonable policies, in line with international law, that enable people seeking asylum to access safe and regular routes to the UK.”
But John Hayes, a Conservative MP and the group’s chair, defended the provocative language in the letter, telling The Independent: “People do feel it is an invasion.
“We are reflecting the sentiment of a very large number of people who feel this is the entry into our country of a large number of people illegally.
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“From the perspective of legal migrants, it’s terribly insulting to have other people who can just walk in – or, in this case, paddle in.”
The letter was sent as Chris Philp, the immigration minister, met with French officials – but not a government minister – in Paris, promising a “new, comprehensive action plan”, but with no detail provided.
His boss, the home secretary, has appointed a former royal marine as her “clandestine channel threat commander”, to draw up plans to block migrants coming over from France.
But the Ministry of Defence is still considering her request to deploy warships, after one official there branded the tactic “completely potty”.
Mr Hayes said his group backed the move, saying: “We think it’s an excellent idea, we should deal with that without delay.”
He argued the numbers crossing from France, had reached “really extraordinary numbers”, but the figures suggest there has simply been a shift in method.
The most common route has been to stow away in a lorry but, since the coronavirus lockdown, the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children found in lorries at Dover port has reduced from several dozen a month to zero.
It emerged on Monday that Ms Patel was part of a Commons committee inquiry which warned that “a policy that focuses exclusively on closing borders will drive migrants to take more dangerous routes”.
Mr Passarlay, speaking to BBC News, added: “I would like more humanity and compassion from these MPs. It’s so unfortunate that you treat people like that like statistical numbers.”