The British government says it plans to crack down on people bringing migrants across the English Channel. The Prime Minister announced that penalties for smugglers would be "stiffened".
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, told reporters on Monday that the government wanted to increase the maximum prison term for people convicted of people smuggling and trafficking offences.
"It is outrageous that the gangsters, the people smugglers, these thugs, are still putting people's lives at risks in the way that they are, taking money to help people cross the Channel in unseaworthy vessels, risking their lives," Johnson said, according to British news agency PA Media.
"What we are going to do is to absolutely, ruthlessly stiffen the sentences for anybody who is involved in this kind of people smuggling and trafficking human beings across the Channel."
Johnson added that the British government was working with the French authorities to tackle the issue.
Life sentence for smugglers
The prime minister's comments come after Home Secretary Priti Patel said the maximum sentence for people smuggling in Britain should be increased to life, according to a report in The Times on Monday, March 1. The average sentence for the offence is currently three years in prison – with the maximum sentence being 14 years.
The longer prison sentences are part of a series of "deterrent measures" to take effect next year, the Times reports. On Saturday, 87 migrants crossed the Channel, bringing the total so far this year to 531, according to the paper. Last year, a record 8,417 people made the crossing.
The Times quotes a Home Office (interior ministry) source saying that increasing the maximum term to life would "send a clear message" that the government considers people smuggling as an offence similar to murder. "We need to be sentencing people on the basis it is practically equivalent to firing rifles into a crowded room in terms of the risk they are taking with other people’s lives," the source added.
A government source also told the paper that even with tougher penalties for people smugglers, the problem remained with detection. "A lot of people who work on people smuggling are obviously not in the UK," the source said.
More than 14,700 entered immigration detention last year
In 2020, according to Home Office statistics, 14,773 people were placed in immigration detention, 40% fewer than the previous year. There has been a general downward trend since 2015 in the number of people entering detention in Britain. In that year, the number peaked at more than 32,000.
At the end of last year, there were 910 people in immigration detention in the UK, according to the Home Office. Iranians were the most common nationality entering detention last year, followed by Albanians. While most nationalities saw a drop in the number of people being detained, but the number of Eritreans (675), Sudanese (914) and Syrians (617) increased.
More than 15,000 people also left immigration detention last year. According to the Home Office, over half of those were detained for seven days or less.