Migration Crisis Contents

2Calais and the Channel ports

Juxtaposed border controls

13.Calais is a common point for migrants to try to enter the UK illegally. The Calais-Dover route is the narrowest point of the English Channel, it has the quickest ferry times, the most ferry crossings, and regular trains via Eurotunnel. As our predecessor Committee pointed out in their March 2015 report, the bottleneck created by migrants gathering in the Calais area led to the development of camps of several thousand refugees and migrants.22

14.In 2003, the British, French and Belgian governments signed the Le Touquet agreement establishing “juxtaposed controls”. Juxtaposed controls refer to reciprocal arrangements between the three countries, under which immigration checks on certain cross-Channel routes take place before passengers board the train or ferry, rather than on arrival in the UK, to prevent undocumented passengers reaching the UK in order to lodge an asylum application. Border Force currently operates juxtaposed controls at seven locations in France and Belgium:

15.We discussed the possible impact of EU exit on the juxtaposed border arrangements earlier this year, first with the then Minister for Immigration, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, and then with the then Home Secretary, Rt Hon Theresa MP. Mr Brokenshire was concerned that there were “parties” in France “advocating very clearly that they would like to see an end to the juxtaposed controls”, although “this was not the view of the French government”.24 Mrs May agreed that “there are many voices in France suggesting that the Le Touquet agreement should be torn up and France should revert to the previous situation where there were no juxtaposed controls”.25

16.Since the EU Referendum, the French presidential candidate Alain Juppé has stated he would be likely to scrap the Le Touquet agreement and return the border to UK territory, if elected.26 This followed calls from both the French Minister for the Economy, Emanuel Macron, and the Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart (from whom we took oral evidence at the start of this inquiry) for the juxtaposed border arrangements to be ended.27 However, as Mr Brokenshire emphasised to us on 12 July, both President Hollande and Interior Minister Cazeneuve have reiterated that they expect juxtaposed border controls to be unaffected by the UK exit from the EU.28

17.Since the EU Referendum, there have been reports of some politicians in France calling for the trilateral Le Touquet agreement on juxtaposed borders to end, and for the UK border to be moved back from Calais and other Channel ports to the Kent coast. Such comments are unproductive and are likely to encourage more migrants to travel to Calais. There are clear advantages to the UK from a facility that allows UK authorities to identify and carry out security checks on travellers, and examine passenger and freight vehicles, on the continental side of the Channel. We believe that the arrangements for juxtaposed borders and the co-operation which exists between police and border agencies on both sides of the Channel must continue. This is not just in the interests of the UK, but also France. Those involved in terrorism and criminal gangs do not respect borders and both countries need to be vigilant in confronting these ever-present threats. Maintaining the Le Touquet agreement should be acknowledged as a priority for the UK Government.

Increased attempts to cross the Channel in summer 2015

18.In July 2015, Calais was blockaded by a series of strikes by French ferry workers. The strikes led to long delays on both sides of the Channel, with queues of goods and passenger vehicles at ferry ports and at the Eurotunnel terminus. This created increased opportunities for migrants and refugees to attempt to board UK bound vehicles. For example, on 2–3 July, it was reported that up to 150 migrants had stormed the tunnel, causing disruption to services leading to delays and cancellations. There were also deaths of migrants, including on 7 July, when a migrant died on a freight train while trying to reach the UK from the French side of the Channel.29

19.We took oral evidence in July and September 2015 on the problems this disruption was causing in local areas on both sides of the Channel, and the danger to migrants, from a range of witnesses including road haulage and Eurotunnel representatives, the then Minister for Immigration, the Director General of Border Force, and the Mayor of Calais. We were told that Border Force had detected 30,180 attempts to enter the UK through the juxtaposed controls in the 10 months from March 2014 to the end of January 2015, compared to 18,000 attempts in the year to March 2014. French counterparts, the Police aux Frontières, had intercepted a similar number on their side. The French police release “clandestines” they apprehend back into the French countryside. The 30,000 attempts to enter the UK through the juxtaposed ports do not therefore necessarily represent 30,000 individuals, but are likely to represent a smaller number of migrants making repeated attempts. Many of the illegal migrants are assisted by criminal gangs .30

20.In August 2015, the French Minister of the Interior and the then Home Secretary issued a Joint Ministerial Declaration on UK/French Co-operation Managing Migratory Flows in Calais. It included a commitment for the UK to make a financial contribution of €5 million per year for two years in support of a range of measures to tackle the problems.31

Steps to tackle illegal migrants crossing the Channel

21.The UK and French governments have invested in physical infrastructure around Calais, including additional fencing and floodlighting, CCTV, and infra-red detection technology. The UK has supported Eurotunnel to increase the number of security guards and the French have deployed several hundred more police to the area. The two Governments agreed to greater cooperation on tackling migrant smugglers, including intelligence-sharing and cooperation on prosecutions. There is now a joint command and control centre in Calais from which law enforcement staff from the two countries coordinate operations. Border Force monitors the situation in other Channel and North Sea ports to assess whether additional security needs to be introduced at more UK ports. 32

22.The then Minister for Immigration provided us with an update in February 2016. He said that the latest estimate was that there were between 5,000 and 7,000 migrants living in camps in the Calais area. This is a significant increase on the figure the Mayor of Calais provided in evidence to us last September. The French Government has established 94 centres away from Calais where migrants receive support and can claim asylum. French authorities had advised that this had resulted in about 2,500 people moving away from the camps around Calais and Dunkirk.33 At the end of February, the French authorities began dismantling the “Jungle” camp in Calais where as many as 3,500 migrants were estimated to be living.34

23.As our predecessors emphasised, increasing security at one point on the French Channel coast carries the risk of simply displacing illegal migrants to other potential embarkation and arrival points, and this has proved to be the case.35 It was reported in the press in mid-April that the National Crime Agency (NCA) had found evidence of people-smuggling gangs being displaced from Calais and Dunkirk. Smuggling was reported to have increased at ports including Hull, Immingham, Tilbury, Purfleet, Newhaven and Portsmouth. Prices paid by illegal migrants were said to range from as little as £100 for a single, basic attempt to more than £6,000 for a journey in “high-quality concealment”. Some migrants were reported to have paid up to £12,000 for transport from Dunkirk to the UK in rigid-hulled inflatable boats.36 The issue of migrant smuggling is examined in detail in Chapter 5.

24.When the French authorities started dismantling the camps at Calais, the Belgian authorities reinstated controls on their border with France in anticipation of those evicted from Calais exploring the port of Zeebrugge as an alternative to Calais. Both Calais and Zeebrugge were mentioned in a 2016 Europol report as places of activity for criminals involved in migrant smuggling (see Chapter 5).37

25.At a UK-France summit in Amiens on 3 March 2016, the then Home Secretary and the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, agreed to spend a further £17 million in the next financial year on measures to address migration pressure in Calais and the surrounding area. This agreement built on the earlier one in August 2015 on cooperation and security in the Calais area. This new funding will pay for further infrastructure projects; to assist the French police in protecting the roads around Calais; to fund migrant facilities in other parts of France; and to continue joint work to return migrants not in need of humanitarian assistance to their home countries.38

26.The situation in Calais and elsewhere on the French side of the Channel coast is a manifestation of the wider problem across Europe. The number of migrants in Calais is relatively small compared to the flows entering Europe and being managed by other countries. However, there is a potential threat to UK security, and the ongoing challenge to migration controls which this aspect of illegal migration presents remains of serious concern to us. The Home Office must continue to adapt its response to cross-Channel illegal migration to reflect changes in methods and routes used by migrant smugglers. It must also work actively with EU countries and agencies to tackle the root causes of people gathering in the Calais area with the aim of crossing to the UK.

Coastal security

27.When we took evidence from the then Minister for Security, Rt Hon John Hayes MP, in November 2015, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, he told us that there was “a significant challenge” in ensuring security at smaller UK ports and airports and that the Government was undertaking “urgent work” on this. He went on to say that:

[ … ] we do need to refresh our thinking about those points of entry for goods and people. It is almost true that the more you strengthen the protections you put in place at the principal points of entry, the more you displace the malevolent attention of those who seek to do us harm to those other places. So we have initiated a fresh review, a fresh piece of work on smaller airports and smaller ports because we share your concerns.”39

28.The UK Government confirmed at the end of May that new measures to strengthen coastal security would come into force to tackle smuggling of people, drugs and weapons. Border Force officers will now be able to stop, board, divert and detain vessels and arrest anyone they suspect of having broken immigration laws, in response to warnings that an increasing number of people are using “more dangerous” routes to try to reach the UK because of better security measures at the Channel Tunnel and ferry port in Calais. Eight new patrol boats will also be made available to Border Force to supplement the existing fleet of five vessels.40 However, it was subsequently reported that only four of the new boats will be deployed now; the remainder will not be fully operational for another 18 months. It was also reported in May that French military vessels and aircraft had been ordered to patrol the English Channel to search for migrants trying to reach the UK by boat, due to French concerns about illegal migrants trying to find alternative routes.41

29.The table below shows the number of patrol vessels which the UK has, compared to other maritime countries in Europe.

Table 1: Number of coastguard and other patrol vessels in European maritime countries


Number of vessels

Coastline (miles)

UK (Border Force)



Italy (Guardia di Finanza)



Turkey (Coast Guard Command)



Spain (Civil Guard)



Greece (Hellenic Coast Guard)



Croatia (Croatian Coast Guard)



Netherlands (Netherlands Coastguard)



Source: UK Border Force website; Wikipedia (Italy, Greece, and Croatia); Bosphorus Naval News (Turkey); and Netherlands Coastguard

30.When we took evidence from the Director General of Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, in December 2015, he had not then been informed what his budget for 2016–17 would be.42 We took the opportunity of an oral evidence session with the then Home Office Second Permanent Secretary, Oliver Robbins, on 12 April 2016 to ask whether Sir Charles had now been informed about his budget for the current financial year, given that it had already begun. Mr Robbins was unable to answer our questions.43 The then Home Secretary finally confirmed that Sir Charles had been informed about his budget, in a letter to the Committee Chairman on 18 April.44

31.When the Director General of Border Force, Sir Charles Montgomery, gave evidence to us in December 2015, he had not been informed what his budget for 2016–17 would be. When we asked the then Second Permanent Secretary about this in oral evidence in April 2016, after the current financial year had begun, he was unable to tell us whether Sir Charles had yet been told what his budget was. The then Home Secretary subsequently confirmed in writing that Sir Charles had been informed about his budget. This initial confusion was unacceptable—when select committees request information, it should be provided in a timely way.

32.Border Force has been given a key role in implementing strengthened coastal security measures but it clear that it is experiencing problems in gaining access to a sufficient number of patrol boats: only four of the new vessels are currently deployed and the remaining four will not be available for more than a year. Maritime patrols are an essential element of border security for an island nation. Border Force needs to be given all the necessary equipment, including vessels, to enable it to carry out its responsibilities effectively. The number of Border Force vessels in operation appears to be worryingly low. Royal Navy vessels should be made available to Border Force to make up for shortfalls, where necessary.

33.In relation to our work on counter-terrorism, the then Minister for Security, John Hayes MP, acknowledged that tightening security at larger ports and airports risks displacing “malevolent attention” to smaller points of entry. This is equally true in relation to displacement of illegal migration and small ports are now being used by criminal gangs to move people between the Continent and the UK. Moreover, whilst the Government can be commended for its efforts to secure Calais, it has not heeded warnings, including from this Committee, that migration flows would be displaced to Belgium and the Netherlands, and most recently to Germany. Security must be tightened at small ports and airports which are being used as entry points from these new departure points on the continental coast as a matter of urgency. The Government should inform us what progress has been made on the “urgent work” that it says it is carrying out to protect small ports and airports, in addition to the increase in Border Force vessels, which is itself delayed.

34.The initial prompt for our inquiry was the issue of border security in relation to Calais and Dunkirk that arose in summer 2015. However, our concerns range much more widely that that. That there are unofficial migrant camps at the border of two of Europe’s wealthiest nations is a matter of serious regret and concern. A wide range of the evidence submitted to us by experts and volunteers confirms that the conditions in the camps are absolutely atrocious and are directly causing suffering and ill health for many residents. In a letter to this Committee in July 2015, the then Immigration Minister confirmed that the information he had from France was that the most common five nationalities of migrants at Calais were Syrian, Eritrean, Sudanese, Iranian and Iraqi. Written submissions highlighted the number of camp residents, including children, who have family members in the UK or other ties to this country. It is clear that there are many people in these camps entitled to humanitarian protection or refugee status, including some who should have their claims processed in the UK.

35.We require much more information on the work the French and UK governments are undertaking to improve conditions at the camps, and to ensure all who are entitled to humanitarian protection or refugee status obtain it—and are able to do so swiftly. The Government should set out what fraction of the sums invested in Calais have been used in this way, as opposed to strengthening border security. Ultimately, we are yet to see any evidence of a strategy designed to deliver a long-term solution to the presence of these camps, and both governments must work together urgently to deliver one.

22 Eighteenth Report of Session 2014–15, The work of the Immigration Directorates: Calais, HC 902, Chapter 1

23 Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, An Inspection of Juxtaposed Controls November 2012–March 2013

24 Oral evidence taken on 9 February 2016, on the work of the Immigration Directorates, Qs 125–138

25 Oral evidence taken on 22 March 2016 on the work of the Home Secretary, HC 799, Qs245–252

26 The Independent, 4 July 2016, “ French presidential frontrunner Alain Juppé calls to end Le Touquet agreement and place border with UK on British soil”

27 Politico, 28 June 2016, “Macron wants UK border moved as Eurotunnel warns of post-Brexit migrant flood: reports”

28 Oral evidence taken on the Work of the Immigration Directorates, 12 July 2016, Q214

29 BBC website, 4 July 2015, Dozens of Calais migrants try to storm Channel tunnel; and The Guardian, 7 July 2015, Migrant dies on UK-bound freight train near Calais

30 Eighteenth Report of Session 2014–15, The work of the Immigration Directorates: Calais, HC 902, Chapter 1. See also oral evidence taken on Immigration—the situation in Calais on 14 July 2015, HC 318 and oral evidence taken on the Migration Crisis, 8 September 2015, HC 427

31 Managing Migratory Flows in Calais: Joint Ministerial Declaration on UK/French Co-operation, 20 August 2015

32 Home Office written evidence (MIG0067)

33 Oral evidence taken on 9 February 2016, Qs 139–141

35 Eighteenth Report of Session 2014–15, The work of the Immigration Directorates: Calais, HC 902, para 10

36 See, for example, The Times, 13 April 2016, Illegal migrants smuggled into Britain in inflatable boat,; and Daily Express, 13 April 2016, Migrants’ £14,000 ticket to Britain: Vast scale of Calais people smuggling racket exposed

37 Europol, Migrant smuggling in the EU, February 2016

38 Home Office press release, 3 March 2016; see also Prime Minister’s speech at UK-France summit, 3 March 2016

39 Oral evidence taken in the Countering Extremism inquiry, 24 November 2015, Qs449–453

40 Home Office news story, 26 May 2016, “New powers to strengthen coastal security”

41 The Times, 1 June 2016, “Border guards face 18-month wait for migrant patrol boats”; and The Times, 20 May 2016, “French navy patrols Channel to stop migrants”

42 Oral evidence taken in the inquiry into Countering Extremism, 1 December 2015, Q567

43 Oral evidence taken on the Work of the Home Office, 12 April 2016, Qs101–109

44 Letter from the Home Secretary to the Chair of the Committee, 18 April 2016

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

28 July 2016