Sonic weapons considered as part of Home Sec's 'push back' migrant plans

17 January 2022, 13:45 | Updated: 18 January 2022, 07:50

The Royal Navy will be brought in to "push back" migrant boats in the Channel.
The Royal Navy will be brought in to "push back" migrant boats in the Channel. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Controversial sonic weapons were reportedly considered as part of government plans to force migrants to turn around in the English Channel.

The Long-Range Acoustic Devices - which are used to disperse crowds in the United States - emit extremely loud, high-frequency noises that in some cases are so powerful they can cause people to vomit.

Two Border Force boats are already installed with the devices but are currently only used to relay voice commands.

But Downing Street policy experts called for them to be used to force people crossing the Channel to turn around, according to The Sun.

The Home Office reportedly turned down the suggestion, saying it would not work.

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"As part of our ongoing operational response and to prevent further loss of life at sea, we continue to test a range of safe and legal options to stop small boats making this dangerous and unnecessary journey," a spokesperson said.

"However, we have no plans to use 'sonic devices' to deter migrants and to suggest otherwise is wrong and misleading."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "No 10 seems to have lost any sense of respect or humanity if they can stoop this low for the sake of headlines.

"Targeting sonic weapons at people in small boats will not stop criminal gangs from profiting, it will just put more lives at risk.

"The Home Office is right to reject it."

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It comes as the Home Secretary confirmed on Monday that the Royal Navy will be put in charge of "pushing back" migrant boats in the Channel to "protect our borders".

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is expected to take over the operation from Border Force within weeks on "humanitarian grounds", ministers heard.

Conservative MP Philip Davies told MPs that "Channel crossings are so dangerous" that "we need to do whatever is necessary to stop them".

He said: "Surely the quickest way to stop them is simply to turn the boats back and escort them back into French waters?"

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"Hasn't the time come to do that on humanitarian grounds as well as to protect our borders from illegal immigration?" he added.

Home Secretary Priti Patel replied that was "absolutely the policy of this government".

She added: "Means are being tested, technology is being used, but also the way in which boats can be pushed back has also been well tested."

Some MPs described the decision to "push back" migrants making the perilous journey across the Channel as "inhumane".

SNP shadow home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald said the move is "pathetic, inhumane and an abuse of the Royal Navy".

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He continued: "Her grubby shopping around for places to offshore asylum seekers is an outrageous and dangerous big white elephant."

Detailed information on how the plan would work has not yet been provided.

Labour has accused the Prime Minister of trying to "distract from the total mess he is in" amid reports of Covid law-breaking parties at Number 10, while campaigners branded the plans "cruel and inhumane".

The MoD said the Government is exploring "every avenue" to prevent more crossings, while the Home Office insisted it was introducing "necessary long-term changes".

An MoD spokesman said: "Unacceptable numbers of people continue to make the dangerous Channel crossings and last November's tragic deaths serve as the strongest reminder of the need to stop them."

Further details "will be made known in due course," the spokesman added.

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On November 24 2021, an inflatable dinghy carrying migrants from France to the United Kingdom capsized in the Channel, killing 27 of the 30 people on board.

Labour's shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the Government has failed to carry out the "serious, practical work with France that is needed to stop lives being lost and criminal gangs profiting from dangerous Channel crossings".

She said: "Instead, this looks like Boris Johnson is using the situation to chase headlines to distract from the total mess he is in as a result of rule-breaking parties in Number 10.

"The Government brought the Navy in to patrol the Channel three years ago in 2019. HMS Enterprise and HMS Mersey did not intercept a single boat and the cost to the Home Office was £780,000. They need to explain what is different in these latest plans.

"They've announced pushbacks that they've now admitted won't work and keep reannouncing offshore processing, even though no other country has agreed to it and it was incredibly costly and damaging when tried in Australia."

The Times also reported plans are being drawn up to send migrants to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda for processing and resettlement, but this has not been confirmed.

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Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "The men, women and children coming across the Channel who have faced great peril are seeking safety in the UK.

"We know two-thirds are allowed to stay in the UK as refugees. Prime ministers since Churchill have always given people fleeing persecution and bloodshed a fair hearing on UK soil. Using the military to repel them and seeking to expel them offshore is cruel and inhumane.

"It's a desperate move by a government that isn't able to find solutions."

On Friday French authorities said a Sudanese man in his 20s had been found unconscious and pulled from the water after falling overboard as he and others tried to reach the UK.

A manslaughter investigation has been opened, the prosecutor for Boulogne-sur-Mer said.

More than 450 people have made the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats so far this year, following a record-breaking year in 2021 when at least 28,000 arrived in the UK.