Former Australian minister Andrew Downer advises UK over migrants

We kept people traffickers out… Britain can too: Former Australian foreign minister ALEXANDER DOWNER argues the answer to cutting illegal immigration is to target gangs organising Channel crossings

There is only one way to stop the ever-growing number of migrants travelling across the Channel to enter the UK illegally.

You have to destroy the business model of the people smugglers.

People say it cannot be done but it can. I know because I did it in Australia when I was foreign minister 20 years ago.

Former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, pictured, said Britain should target the criminal gangs exploiting migrants looking to cross the English Channel

He said one of the ways he tackled the problem in Australia was to send migrants to Papua New Guinea for processing

The methods I used are not so different to those that appear to be being explored by Home Secretary Priti Patel and her officials.

These are said to include putting migrants on disused ferries off the British coast or decommissioned oil rigs in the North Sea; sending migrants to the Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, Moldova, Morocco or to the Shetlands.

One of the proposals – the possibility of sending migrants to Papua New Guinea – may sound far-fetched but it struck an immediate chord with me.

That is what I did when I grappled with a very similar problem to the one facing you. I sent migrants to Papua New Guinea.

Just as is happening here, there were howls of protests from human rights lawyers and Left-wing politicians. But it worked brilliantly. Once word got round that if you tried to get into Australia by boat you would not be allowed in, and would be sent to Papua New Guinea instead, they ran out of customers. The smugglers’ businesses closed down.

At present these criminal gang leaders are getting away with a huge racket – and they are risking the lives of desperate migrants in the process.

The smugglers know that if they can just get migrants into the UK they have got it made.

You have to send a clear message that anyone who tries to come to the UK by boat will never be allowed in

They are very tutored in circumventing immigration laws and can rely on human rights lawyers to assist them.

You have to send a clear message that anyone who tries to come to the UK by boat will never be allowed in.

However, this doesn’t mean you do not accept any refugees – a humane asylum system is vital in any civilised society. Australia had an annual quota of around 20,000 refugees.

But the point is they all had to apply by conventional legal methods, those who had tried to sneak in on a boat were disqualified. At present, far from discouraging migrants to come here illegally, you are encouraging it by doing the criminals’ work for them.

Smugglers know that if they charge the migrants exorbitant sums, put them in a rubber boat in Dunkirk or Calais and get them half-way across the Channel, the British Navy will escort them the rest of the way to Dover.

It is absurd. I went through all of this in Australia. We had large numbers travelling in small boats from Indonesia to Australia’s Christmas Island.

The people in the boats weren’t Indonesians or genuine refugees.

The people smugglers had recruited them from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other countries –similar to those who come across the Channel.

The smugglers would tell the migrants: ‘Give us 10,000 dollars and we will fly you to Indonesia and guarantee you will get into Australia on a boat.’

In 2001, more than 5,500 illegal migrants came to Australia by this perilous route. I realised the best way to stop it was to destroy the business model of this cruel and highly lucrative illicit trade.

I established migrant centres in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, an island in the South Pacific, as part of a Pacific Solution initiative.

Any illegal immigrant who arrived on an Australian beach was sent to one of these centres.

Once word got out it worked brilliantly and by the following year, the number of illegal migrants arriving on boats had dropped to a solitary one individual.

The scheme has changed over the years, but remains essentially the same. And it still works.

I reject claims that conditions in the centres were inhumane. They were not prisons. Migrants were free to travel outside the centres.

They returned to them because they were properly looked after and fed. But it deterred other migrants from using it as a way of entering Australia.

That is why I congratulate Miss Patel for having the political courage to at least explore a similar solution to the problem.

It worked in Australia and I believe it could work in Britain.

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