The Home Office has insisted crossing the Channel in a small boat is illegal after a minister suggested people on board who have been victims of trafficking are not breaking the law.
Speaking to Sky News, security minister Tom Tugendhat was asked repeatedly if it was illegal to make the journey by small boat to Britain.
He said that it is "wrong to subsidise or support in any way" organised crime groups which transport people.
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Asked again, Mr Tugendhat told Kay Burley: "It’s not illegal to be a victim of human trafficking.
"But it is illegal to transport people in a criminal way. And that’s what we’re seeing."
Following the interview, a Home Office source said that, under the Nationality And Borders Act passed last year, crossing the Channel on small boats is illegal.
The source said Mr Tugendhat was "answering a different question" when he stated people who have been victims of human trafficking are not breaking the law.
Human trafficking and modern slavery victims are protected by specific laws, but the home secretary has suggested some of those who make claims are "gaming" the system.
The Illegal Migration Bill going through parliament at the moment would reduce protections available to them, legal experts say.
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According to the Crown Prosecution Service, there is no "definitive" definition of a victim of human trafficking.
The Modern Slavery Act states: "A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the travel of another person – V – with a view to V being exploited."
It adds that it is "irrelevant" if V consents to the journey.
Despite passing the Nationality And Borders Act when Boris Johnson was prime minister, Rishi Sunak’s government is introducing the Illegal Migration Bill in a further attempt to reduce the number of people entering the UK in small boats.
Some 45,755 people made the journey last year, and more than 6,000 have already crossed in 2023, according to government figures.
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Mr Tugendhat highlighted his desire to tackle illegal migration, saying: "It is absolutely horrific to see what is done to some individuals.
"All they’re doing is searching for a better life.
"But what they’re doing, what happens to them, is they get sold into slavery, sold into human trafficking.
"And many of them, sadly, are murdered effectively in the Sahara, in the Mediterranean."
© Sky News 2023