We took a major step forward last month in cracking down on immigration abuse with 300 uniformed officers mounting a series of dawn raids in Wisbech, March and King’s Lynn. This was part of a multi-agency operation involving Cambridgeshire Police, the National Crime Agency and the Gang Masters Licensing Authority code named ‘Operation Endeavour’. Ten arrests were made and over 80 migrant workers were given refuge in reception centres provided by the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
It is important that this success is followed up with further police investigation to protect both vulnerable migrants and local residents from the criminality of illegal gangmasters. I have therefore held a series of meetings in the last 3 weeks in Parliament with the Home Secretary Theresa May, Immigration Minister Mark Harper, and Security Minister James Brokenshire to discuss the recent operation and the importance of further enforcement action.
In her letter to me following our meeting the Home Secretary acknowledges the successful joint working approach of Operations Pheasant and Endeavour. Congratulations are due to all the officers involved. Yet we should be in no doubt that abuse is still taking place within our community, and this needs to be tackled. We must therefore work to ensure that offenders cannot continue their dubious activities as soon as the police vans have retreated and the heat is off.
In short, the success of Operation Endeavour must not be a high profile ‘one off ‘. In order to achieve a genuine turn around I believe the National Crime Agency now needs to be tasked with leading work across agencies, and across county boundaries, so that existing legislation is enforced to the full.
The National Crime Agency offers precisely this scope for joined up working across county borders – a key issue in the Fens where unskilled workers move from farm to farm in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and elsewhere. It has the in-built capacity to target problems at their source- in many cases from the moment the workers arrive in the country- and is therefore ideally placed to take a frontline role in detecting crimes before mounting visible enforcement on the ground.
The Home secretary has joined me in acknowledging the proven benefits of multiagency solutions to the problems associated with migrant workers and has been very supportive of Fen-wide measures to tackle issues of houses in multiple occupation, antisocial behaviour and other crime. This work is the foundation on which the forthcoming modern anti slavery bill will be built, helping enforcement authorities take a much tougher line on human trafficking and related abuses.
For those people determined to profit from the misery and mistreatment of migrant workers, we need to ensure that the robust and visible action we saw in Wisbech last month is the start of a regular and hard-hitting deterrent. If not, we run the risk of letting some of the most vulnerable people in our society slip back into the shadows where they can be abused. Local residents are then left to pick up the pieces through the fallout from over crowded housing, which is linked to much of the anti-social behaviour and street drinking which remains a concern locally.
I am due to meet with the Security Minister again in the coming weeks to explore how the momentum gained from Operation Endeavour can be built upon. I will update again in the future.