Number of English Channel crossings now three times 2020’s total

·5-min read

The number of people who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel in small boats this year is now three times the total for the whole of 2020.

At least 886 people succeeded in reaching the UK on Saturday, bringing the total for the year to more than 25,700, according to available official data compiled by the PA news agency.

Small boat arrivals in 2021 now stand at more than three times the figure for the whole of 2020, when 8,417 people crossed the Dover Strait.

These figures are based on Home Office data obtained and analysed by PA.

Watch: French police evacuate migrants from camp near Dunkirk

This comes despite repeated vows from the Government to make such crossings “unviable” and tens of millions of pounds promised to France to help tackle the issue.

In the House of Commons on Monday, the Home Secretary defended her efforts to tackle the crisis after claims that she has “lost control” of the situation.

Tensions with France, already strained amid Brexit rows over fishing and Northern Ireland, have escalated in recent weeks as about 6,000 people have made the perilous journey in November.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin has blamed Britain’s work market for enticing people to make the perilous crossing.

Asked whether Boris Johnson thought France was doing enough to prevent Channel crossings, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Monday: “We continue to believe that there is more that can be done on both sides.”

Meanwhile, business minister Paul Scully argued that French officials are not enforcing their land border “well enough” to prevent people from crossing the Channel.

A task force led by minister Steve Barclay has been drafted in to support efforts to stem the rising number of people arriving on Britain’s shores.

POLITICS Migrants
(PA Graphics)

However, despite the increasing numbers of small boat arrivals, the UK continues to see far fewer boat arrivals and asylum claims than many of its European counterparts.

At least 105,135 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).

At least 1,319 people are estimated to be dead or missing, according to the same data.

It is thought at least 10 people have died in the last few weeks while trying to cross the English Channel.

Watch: Aerial shots show UK Border Force collecting migrants

In the Commons, Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds accused Priti Patel of “empty rhetoric and broken promises” and blaming “everyone but herself” over the matter.

Ms Patel dismissed some of his comments as “nonsense” and accused Labour of always standing up for “unlimited migration” as she insisted the Government was working on a long-term plan which would address concerns.

She told MPs: “This problem will take time to fix and that there is no silver bullet. The only solution is wholescale reform of our asylum system.

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said: “While more people have arrived by boat by 2021, official figures show that asylum applications have fallen in recent years and the UK takes a small fraction of the refugees of our neighbouring countries.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people arrive at Dungeness, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“The crisis is that people with credible protection claims – such as Afghans fleeing the Taliban and Iranians fleeing horrendous oppression – are forced to make dangerous journeys that make the UK look chaotic and incompetent.

“If Steve Barclay wants to deliver for the Prime Minister he would open a humanitarian visa system for people in France which could end small boat crossings overnight and stop the embarrassing rolling news coverage.”

Meanwhile Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “People are dying in the Channel and at other borders across the world and criminal gangs are thriving by exploiting these same people – while politicians seem only to care about sounding tough and contributing nothing to provide safety for the people compelled to make these journeys.

“Instead of more cruelty and nonsense about overseas asylum ‘processing’ in Albania or forcing traumatised people to live in decrepit military barracks – ministers need to focus on improving an asylum system that has become crippled by delay and dysfunction.”

Last week one of the Government’s immigration ministers told MPs just five migrants who crossed the Channel by boat to the UK have been returned to Europe so far this year, citing difficulties in securing agreements.

Overall, there were 31,115 asylum claims made to the year ending in June, 4% fewer than the previous period, Tom Pursglove said, but he added that the trend is an increase since June.

He told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that using small boats to get to the UK is becoming the “route of choice for facilitations by evil criminal gangs”.

Research by the Refugee Council published last week suggests most people crossing the Channel are refugees fleeing persecution.

The charity’s analysis indicates that for the top 10 countries of origin arriving by small boat, 61% of initial decisions made in the 18 months to June 2021 would have resulted in refugee protection being granted.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed 70% of those travelling to the UK across the Channel were “not genuine asylum seekers”.

On Saturday, hundreds of people, including very young children, made the trip to the UK aboard small boats.

Adults carrying youngsters and others wrapped in blankets were seen arriving on the south-east coast with help from lifeboat crews.

In total, at least 886 people reached the UK on Saturday aboard 28 boats – the third highest daily total on record for the current crisis.

On Monday evening the Home Office confirmed UK authorities rescued or intercepted 1,131 people from 28 small boat incidents on November 16.

In a statement, Ms Patel said the number arriving in the UK was “unacceptable” and the result of a “global migration crisis”, adding: “And I fear we would be in a much worse position if it was not for the work already untaken by this Government.”

Watch: Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses migrant crossings

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