Home Office approaches Australian Border Force chief who helped mastermind return of sea migrants

Charles Hymas
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The Home Office has approached the Australian border force chief credited with helping end its crisis over migrant sea crossings.

Chris Philp, the immigration minister, is understood to have contacted Roman Quaedvlieg, former head of Australian border force, to consult him over the country’s Operation Sovereign Borders which saw its patrol force turn back migrants on boats and return them to their port of origin.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Quaedvlieg said Britain needed to introduce similar measures if it wanted to “significantly reduce” the number of migrants crossing the Channel to Britain. More than 1,600  have reached the UK already this year with just six per cent returned to France.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is already considering law and treaty changes to make it easier to return migrants at sea and on land to France, as previously revealed by The Telegraph.

The contacts with Australian border force experts will, however, raise eyebrows because of the country’s hardline “turnback” policy which included rewriting Australia’s laws to place border policing ahead of asylum seeker rights.

Mr Quaedvlieg said it had been controversial as critics claimed it flew in the face of refugee conventions but came as Australia faced a migrant crisis with 40 to 50 boats a month each with up to 200 on board entering Australian waters.

Projections suggested it could hit 50,000 in a year but within a year of the policy being introduced the influx had been reduced from 2,629 a month to just 207.

Mr Quaedvlieg said Britain could adopt three elements of the Australian operation starting with new powers to allow Border Force, Royal Navy and other immigration agencies to turn back and return migrants at sea or on land.

“The problem is that under your current law, you can’t turn them back and UK immigration policy is such that if they are close enough to UK territorial waters, you have to take them, process them and/or resettle them,” he said. 

“We had that same legislative challenge in Australia. So what the Conservative Government did - and Priti Patel is thinking about in the UK - was to introduce a maritime powers act.

“This authorised our border protection minister and the officials from the various agencies to be able to intercept a boat and to make a reasonable determination that it was intending to breach Australian law whether customs, immigration or biosecurity and so turn them around.”

Mr Quaeudvlieg led the border force that he said “harnessed all our aerial surveillance and maritime assets to interdict boats and turn them round, driving them back or where unseaworthy picking up migrants and returning them from whence they came.”

This was allied to bilateral agreements with countries including Sri Lanka, India and Vietnam to accept the migrants back - which for the Channel would mean renegotiating the Dublin Agreement to allow Britain to return migrants to France.

Mr Quaedvlieg, whose Penguin book on the Operation is out next month, said the third prong was to create a single chain of command to bring together the key agencies of Border Force, immigration, police and National Crime Agency (NCA). 

“All of the elements of sovereign borders were unified under a single taskforce with a single commander reporting to the minister,” he said. “We appointed a three star general with overall command and control who unified all the disparate elements into a whole.

“These are three primary mechanisms that the UK can introduce that will go to significantly reduce the flow of migrants across the Channel. It won’t stop them but it will significantly reduce them.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Office is working in collaboration with the French Government and relevant international law enforcement agencies to tackle this dangerous and illegal activity.  

We are also developing plans to reform policies and laws that will change the UK’s overall approach to illegal migration and the associated criminality to stop these crossings completely.”

Tour de Force, by Roman Quaedvlieg, is published by Penguin Random House on June 2