Priti Patel plans Greek-style clampdown on migrants

 Priti Patel plans Greek-style clampdown on migrants

Priti Patel is planning a Greek-style crackdown on migrants, with new restrictions on asylum seekers amid an escalating European crisis.

Channel migrants held in new purpose-built reception centres will have to obey strict rules or risk losing their right to claim asylum.

The Home Secretary plans to model the centres on the camps for asylum seekers being built by Greece, where migrants face routine checks on their movements along with curfews to prevent absconding.

“If they breach the rules, it could affect their asylum claim,” said a UK government source. “You would be told that you would have to be in by this time. That’s fair rules for operating if you provide food and accommodation. The Greeks have things like timings.”

Migrants could also be issued with “asylum apps” to track the progress of their applications on smartphones or computers in the centres. 

Ms Patel has been impressed by the way in which Greece has digitised its asylum application process from start to finish to track cases, speed up decisions and save millions on unnecessary paperwork.

It comes in the wake of the attempted bombing in Liverpool by a failed asylum seeker who was still in the UK seven years after his application was first rejected. Emad al-Swealmeen is understood to have had mental health problems that were exacerbated by the drawn-out process.

Speaking on a trip to the US, Ms Patel hailed Greece for taking a “very different” approach to that of the EU, including the controversial “pushback” tactics of turning boats back at sea.

“They have not decided to sit behind the EU block of competency,” said the Home Secretary, who earlier this week launched an attack on the EU’s open borders – the Schengen zone – for fuelling a “mass migration crisis” that has spurred a record surge in illegal Channel crossings.

More than 24,500 migrants have reached the UK already this year – nearly treble the total for the whole of 2020. That figure includes more than 5,000 in November, the highest monthly total ever, despite colder weather and riskier sea conditions.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, backed calls for tougher controls and warned that freedom of movement in the EU would be “finished” if leaders failed to ruthlessly protect the bloc’s borders.

“We will not just throw open the doors and let the migrants in,” he said. “EU leaders know that if that happens then Schengen is finished. Freedom of movement is finished. 

“Countries such as Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and others will simply throw up the borders. We need strong external borders.”

Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, has lured thousands of migrants from countries such as Iraq before forcing them to the borders with EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. The situation on the border with Poland has reached crisis point in the last fortnight.

On Friday, it emerged that Germany has become a hub for migrants, with 60 per cent of those trying to cross the Channel entering France only on the day of their attempt. Crime gangs are basing migrants and dinghies in Germany before transporting them at night through Belgium and into France to cross the Channel.

“Germany has become the established base for criminal gangs and gangs matching [migrants to boats],” said a government source. The source warned that France was struggling to contain migrants who were becoming increasingly violent. Ms Patel has raised Germany’s role with her German counterpart.

It came as Emmanuel Macron, the French president, on Friday accused Britain of swinging “between partnership and provocation” over the flow of Channel migrants.

Speaking in northern France, Mr Macron said he would seek closer co-operation with the EU to stem the flow towards the coast but that there was a problem between London and Paris.

“We have the British, who oscillate between partnership and provocation,” he said. “We need to further strengthen collaboration. If those who want to join Britain have family there, it must be part of a family reunification. If they are smuggled, we have to break this system.

“We must take several actions – prevent the establishment of lasting camps, act to dismantle the smuggling networks and strengthen work with the countries of origin to prevent these flows.”

British officials are concerned, however, at the failure of France to deploy specialist forces to the northern coast as they did in 2015, when 3,500 elite Compagnie Republicaine de Securite with mobile hit squads were on the ground.

Only 200 extra reserve gendarme officers have been deployed so far under the £54 million deal between the UK and France to boost patrols and surveillance on northern French beaches.

In the summer, Ms Patel visited one of Greece’s first camps on the island of Samos, where asylum seekers are given 8pm curfews to return or face punishment for breaching the rules. Migrants can leave the camp only if they use their fingerprints to pass through steel turnstile checkpoints so the camp authorities know who is on site at all times.

Under international law, asylum seekers cannot be detained and must be free to leave, but Home Office officials believe they could impose conditions to prevent them from absconding. Migrants would be incentivised to comply because breaches could be taken into account as part of their asylum application. 

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