Social media firms partner with law enforcement to tackle small boat crossings
Social media firms will team up with the National Crime Agency to crack down on people smugglers’ posts encouraging asylum seekers to cross the Channel, ministers have said.
Rishi Sunak said the new partnership between law enforcement and tech giants including Facebook, TikTok and Twitter will tackle attempts to “lure” migrants into paying to make the perilous journey.
Group discounts, free spaces for children and offers of false documents are among the posts the Prime Minister wants removed to help achieve his promise to “stop the boats”.
Labour said the action was “too little, too late” and the Liberal Democrats said it amounted to “tinkering around the edges”.
The voluntary partnership will seek to redirect people away from such content in the same way as is used to tackle content promoting extremism or eating disorders.
An “online capability centre” backed by £11 million in funding will also be established so officers at the NCA can work with the Home Office to report the promotional posts.
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, as well as TikTok and X, formally known as Twitter, have all signed up to the plans, Downing Street said.
Mr Sunak said: “To stop the boats, we have to tackle the business model of vile people smugglers at source.
“That means clamping down on their attempts to lure people into making these illegal crossings and profit from putting lives at risk.
“This new commitment from tech firms will see us redouble our efforts to fight back against these criminals, working together to shut down their vile trade.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the “strengthened collaboration” will ensure content promoting unauthorised Channel crossings “doesn’t see the light of day”.
Kicking off a “small boats week” of linked announcements, No 10 said that the “legacy” backlog of asylum applications made before the end of June 2022 has been reduced by a third since December.
But Labour claimed it will take until 2036 to clear the existing backlog for removals of failed asylum seekers, with nearly 40,000 awaiting removal in the latest figures.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was “just deluded” for the Conservatives to “boast about progress on tackling the Tories asylum chaos”.
“This is too little, too late,” the Labour MP said of the technology partnership plans, accusing the Government of having “no idea how to fix the mess they created”.
Friday’s Channel crossings of 262 people including children were the first since July 26 amid poor weather conditions at sea.
They take the provisional total detected by the Home Office of making the crossing to nearly 15,000 crossings so far this year.
But there were also concerns over the number of people making unauthorised entries through other means.
Figures obtained by The Times and not disputed by the Home Office suggested 21,000 migrants entered the UK undetected before going on to apply for asylum.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said the tech announcement was “tinkering around the edges when much larger reforms are needed”.
“The public has lost all faith in this Government when it comes to the asylum system, and this latest announcement will do little to change that,” the MP said.
‘Cooking the books’
Meanwhile, Labour accused the Government of “cooking the books” as more than 6,000 asylum seekers were wiped off the decisions backlog for reasons including failing to fill in questionnaires under the new fast track scheme.
Shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock accused ministers of “simply marking cases as ‘withdrawn’ based on a missed appointment” as they battle to bring down the backlog from a record high.
“The Conservative government is cooking the books and not being honest with people,” he said.
“They need to come clean on how many of these ‘withdrawn’ asylum seekers are simply getting the green light to drift off into Britain’s underground economy, never to be heard of again, and how many are being removed from the UK.”
The Home Office insisted that it seeks to remove individuals with withdrawn claims if they have no right to remain in Britain.
“Our efforts to streamline processing mean statistics now show an increase in the number of withdrawn claims, which occur for a number of reasons including where someone has already left the UK before their claim was considered or they choose to or pursue another application for permission to stay,” a spokesman said.
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