Channel crossings: Is it dangerous and what happens when people reach the UK?

·3-min read
A group of people thought to be migrants are escorted from the beach in Dungeness, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
A group of people thought to be migrants are escorted from the beach in Dungeness, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

The number of people risking their lives to cross the English Channel to the UK continues to rise, despite repeated vows from the Home Office to make the route “unviable”.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key questions surrounding the issue.

– Where are people travelling from?

For several years hundreds of people have been living in often destitute conditions in camps on the northern coast of France

People are escorted from the beach in Dungeness, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
People are escorted from the beach in Dungeness, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

Many have previously fled torture, persecution and violence in a wide range of countries including in the Middle East and Africa.

– How far is the journey by sea from France to the UK and is it dangerous?

At its shortest point the Dover Strait measures about 21 miles, but people have been making the crossing from beaches along a long stretch of the French coast.

The English Channel is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and the highly dangerous journey has claimed several lives.

In October 2020, a Kurdish-Iranian family, including small children, died when their migrant boat sank off the coast of France.

– Is the number of crossings going up?

The number of people crossing to the UK in small boats has shot up in recent years, and particularly during the pandemic.

In 2020 at least 8,417 people successfully made the journey, more than quadruple the number in 2019.

A shore recovery tractor tows the Dungeness lifeboat to the beach after it returned carrying people crossing from France (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
A shore recovery tractor tows the Dungeness lifeboat to the beach after it returned carrying people crossing from France (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

So far in 2021 more than 8,000 people have reached the UK, with more than five months left in the year.

The number of arrivals in 2020 has been calculated by the PA news agency using daily figures from the Home Office.

The department refuses to provide a running total for arrivals and only releases data on Channel crossings sporadically.

– How does the arrival of small boats and number of asylum claims in the UK compare with other countries?The UK continues to see far fewer boat arrivals and asylum claims than many of its European counterparts.

At least 44,230 people have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea so far this year, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Also, despite the sharp rise in the arrival of small boats on the south coast, asylum applications in the UK fell in 2020 to 29,456.

A group of people come ashore from the local lifeboat at Dungeness in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)
A group of people come ashore from the local lifeboat at Dungeness in Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

This was significantly lower than the 93,475 asylum applications made in France and the 121,955 made in Germany.

– What happens when people are picked up by Border Force in the English Channel?

Current legal obligations mean Border Force vessels can only carry out search and rescue missions and, once on board, migrants can claim asylum in the UK.

When a number of crossings happen all at once, Border Force, lifeguard and coastguard teams can be overwhelmed and cannot address all the incidents at the same time.

Once ashore in the UK, arrivals are taken to processing centres where they can lodge their asylum claims.

Fears have been raised over the plight of migrant children who arrive alone, with Kent County Council threatening legal action against the Home Office as the local authority again announced it could not take in any more.

– What is the Government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill, which is going through Parliament?

The Bill is part of a swathe of policies the Government is now planning to implement, focusing on how claims for asylum are processed and who could ultimately be granted protection and permission to remain in the UK.

For the first time, whether someone enters the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful, according to the Home Office.

The plans have been condemned by campaigners and charities and some immigration experts have suggested the changes could “reduce” the amount of protection offered to “possibly the majority” of people who make asylum claims in the UK.

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