It’s time for an adult discussion on illegal immigration

It takes a lot of effort, and rightly so, to be able not only to visit a country, but above all to put down roots in it and ultimately start a new life there. And millions of people around the world are going through the proper channels to get there.

However, at the moment an astonishing number of people are crossing the English Channel from France in small boats every day.

They have no papers or identity documents, and because of certain laws, we have no choice but to welcome them.

According to the BBC, in 2021, 28,000 people crossed. Illegally.

This year so far, the number exceeds 30,000, including 8,644 in August alone.

According to Border Force officials and widely reported in the press, it could well reach 60,000 by the end of the year.

Thousands of migrants make the dangerous journey across the English Channel.

This is not a chronicle against immigration. I totally approve. Britain is a country of immigrants. What I am against is uncontrolled and illegal immigration.

I believe passionately that every genuine person has the right to escape persecution or war and seek asylum. However, I also believe passionately that it is entirely reasonable to be concerned about illegal immigration.

We do and will always accept genuine refugees, but this must be done properly, through a border crossing, showing a document if possible.

People trying to enter the UK illegally is nothing new of course, but it has exploded.

Nowadays it is often run by gangs of human traffickers. They even advertise and promote their “business” on social media. And they make a fortune out of it, with little regard for those who make the crossings.

Watch video clips online. The French are doing what they can to try to stop them, but it’s an impossible task.

For most young men, pile into boats and embark on a dangerous journey down a busy shipping lane. And once they arrive in UK waters, we collect them, help them to safety and bring them to our shores. We put them up in hotels, give them access to food, doctors and dentists.

The strain this uncontrolled illegal immigration is putting on our UK public services is enormous.

The UK Border Force has a duty to recover migrant boats.

It has been reported that around 40% of recent arrivals are from Albania. I spent a lot of time in Albania, and I can tell you that communist dictator Enver Hoxha is long dead.

Albania is now in NATO. It also aspires to join the EU. There is no war or mass political oppression in Albania. It is a safe country. It may be poor compared to the UK, but that’s for sure.

These Albanians aren’t scruffy and hungry, they’re mostly young men, wearing designer jeans, with cool western haircuts and smartphones – but of course without passports or papers. The traffickers have already told them to throw away any identification.

The traffickers also tell them the right words to say about how they are “persecuted” at home. These traffickers know the game and play it wisely.

Advertisements for this sick company brag about how easy it is to enter the UK and afford a better life. If you survive the trip that is – tragically, dozens have already drowned.

I have been in refugee camps near the Syrian border, inside Gaza and Iraqi Kurdistan and have seen with my own eyes what real refugees look like. What we see in the English Channel on these boats is quite another thing. It’s a business for economic migrants.

George has seen with his own eyes the suffering of genuine refugees in the camps in Gaza and Syria.

I would welcome anyone who legally applies to come here to work and pay taxes. But open door or open sea policy?

I understand that even if people are just economic migrants, they just want to improve their lives, but can we – should we – take everyone?

Police and border guards in many EU countries have repeatedly pointed out to me that if these people are truly fleeing war, why don’t they seek asylum in one of the many safe countries in road ?

If I fled a despotic regime and arrived in Europe, I would kiss the very soil of the first safe country where I landed. There is no need for anyone to then travel to northern France and jump on a canoe.

In the end, I blame the traffickers. If they weren’t blatantly advertising it and encouraging it, I doubt we’d see what we’re seeing. We never used to see anything like these numbers.

I also blame the British authorities. We have not done enough to discourage these crossings. In France, for example, you must be a resident for six months before receiving health benefits. This is not the case in the UK. We have to stop blaming the French and start looking at ourselves.

Will the new interior minister, Suella Braverman, be able to do something about illegal immigration?

I will never forget what a Syrian refugee told me in southern Turkey a few years ago. I asked him if he would make the perilous journey across the sea to Western countries.

No, he said, he wouldn’t risk his family’s life. He was safe in Turkey, he told me. And he was a legitimate refugee fleeing the war.

Furthermore, and this is deeply disturbing, without papers, without IDs – as they threw them all away beforehand – we literally have no idea who we are allowing into our country.

60,000 people by the end of the year on these little boats – and we don’t know who they are.

I can’t think of any of the over 80 countries I’ve been to that would allow me to enter illegally and then stay there. There is a proper and proper way to enter a country, but what we see in the English Channel is not proper and proper.

Inflatable boats taken from migrants after crossing the English Channel, piled up in a storage area in Dover.

Let me give you the flip side and explain how difficult it is to try to enter the UK legally and pay for the privilege.

My partner Lina is in Moscow. She had to leave the UK in June because her visa expired – she has been in Russia ever since, trying to get another two-year visa. Even if she gets it, she has no right to work here, nor to receive state benefits. Fine, no problem there, but fall on a boat illegally and you are “rewarded”.

The next step is to get Lina what is called a family visa, which will eventually allow her to live and work here. You can’t imagine the hurdles we have to go through to get this visa.

The cost is a few thousand pounds and we have to pay a health supplement of almost a thousand. I understand and I agree. It’s the National Health Service, not the International Health Service.

In a nutshell, if you do the right thing and try to enter the UK legally, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare. Do it illegally, no problem, come and we’ll give you accommodation and access to a doctor.

A lot of paperwork is involved when trying to legally enter the UK.

At the time of writing this column, Lina is still in Moscow. It took months, and still no sign of that all-important stamp in his passport. In the meantime, I wonder how many will cross the English Channel today. If the weather is good, maybe up to 1,000. And they will be taken care of and cared for.

In Budapest a few years ago, when Angela Merkel made it easier for people to enter the EU, I saw hundreds of young men camping outside the Budapest train station. But they didn’t want to seek “asylum” in Hungary. Instead, many paid hundreds of euros to board a train to Germany.

The people fleeing the war in Ukraine are genuine and I welcome them, but many thousands are not genuine and are not fleeing persecution.

George believes genuine refugees, such as Ukrainians fleeing war, should always be welcome in the UK.

For too long we have hid our heads in the sand when it comes to illegal immigration. Often out of fear of being accused of being racist. Isn’t it time to have a serious debate between adults on borders and illegal immigration without ending up with cries of racism?

Although I have been very critical of governments of all persuasions for many years regarding illegal immigration, it is actually not entirely their fault. No matter how determined a home secretary is, her hands are tied.

Should these boat crossings be stopped?

Should we refuse anyone who enters the UK illegally?

In fact, it is very difficult to do so when we are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Next week – Is it time to get out of the ECHR?

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