Number of English Channel crossings surpasses 2020 record five months quicker

ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports on the migrants seen landing earlier on a beach in Dungeness, Kent

The number of people who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel in small boats this year has passed the total for all of 2020 – with more than five months left of 2021.

At least 287 migrants succeeded in reaching the UK on Tuesday, bringing the total for the year to at least 8,452, according to available official data compiled by the PA news agency.

This eclipses the figure for the whole of 2020, when 8,417 people crossed the Dover Strait aboard small boats.

One charity condemned the government’s handling of the issue, saying it “loses all credibility” with the new record.

Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine channel threat commander for the Home Office, said the government “continues to take steps to tackle the unacceptable problem”.

About a dozen people were captured on camera travelling onto a beach at Dungeness, Kent, by dinghy on Tuesday morning, one of several landings.

While at least 20 people, including young children, were rescued on board two Border Force vessels and were brought ashore in Dover, which is further along the coast.

At least 430 migrants crossed the English Channel to the UK onboard just 14 small boats on Monday - which the Home Office believes is the highest number of arrivals recorded in a single day.

Meanwhile, immigration reforms seeking to curb these crossings and change how asylum claims are processed have cleared their first parliamentary hurdle.

The Nationality and Borders Bill received a second reading by 366 votes to 265, majority 101. Labour’s bid to block the Bill was rejected by 359 votes to 265, majority 94.

The Opposition’s amendment acknowledged the “need to address the increasing number of dangerous boat crossings” but argued the legislation failed in several other areas.

A boat crossing the Channel on Tuesday morning

Dan O’Mahoney, Clandestine Channel Threat Commander, said earlier: “There is an unacceptable rise in dangerous small boat crossings across the channel because of a surge in illegal migration across Europe.

“People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and not risk their lives making these dangerous crossing. We are continuing to pursue the criminals behind these illegal crossings.

“Police patrols on French beaches and enhanced intelligence sharing between our security and law enforcement agencies has helped to prevent crossings through a combination of inland and sea patrols.

“The government continues to undertake substantial steps to tackle the unacceptable problem of illegal migration through the Nationality and Borders Bill which will protect lives and break this cycle of illegal crossings.

"The government is also continuing to return those with no legal right to remain in the UK.”

Immigrants land in Kent after crossing the Channel. Credit: PA

Home Secretary Priti Patel and French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced an agreement on Tuesday evening to more than double the number of police patrolling French beaches for the second time in a year.

As part of the deal, the government will give France £54 million to support its efforts to stop small boat crossings.

Ms Patel said that British people have “had enough of illegal migration and the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs”.

Under the newly-agreed package, French officers will patrol wider areas of coastline across the northern coast between Boulogne and Dunkirk and patrols will be expanded further north-west around Dieppe.

There is also to be improved coverage via surveillance technology of the coast of France and investment in infrastructure is to increase to try and bolster border security at key border crossing points along the Channel coast.

Priti Patel Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

The UK still has far fewer boat arrivals and asylum claims than other European countries.

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

And although migrant arrivals had increased, asylum applications in the UK fell in 2020 to 29,456.

In France, the number of asylum applications was 93,475 and in Germany, the number was 121,955.

Many of the migrants are families who are fleeing violence, torture and persecution. They regularly set off from France on dinghies, often after paying people-smugglers.

Many are risking their lives to cross the 21-mile Dover Strait. In October, a Kurdish-Iranian family died when their migrant boat sank off the French coast.

People thought to be migrants come ashore at Dungeness, Kent. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Nationality and Borders Bill

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is intended reform the asylum system, is being considered in Parliament. It would allow the UK to be able to send asylum seekers to a “safe third country” for immigration processing.

It would also give Border Force officers powers to turn migrants away from the UK while at sea, make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission and increase the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully from six months’ imprisonment to four years.

If the bill is passed, whether someone enters the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on their asylum claim and on their status in the UK.

The Labour Party is seeking to block the bill and accused the government of trying to create a “two-tiered” approach to asylum claims.

Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said: ”With today’s record this Government loses all credibility in managing a safe and fair asylum system.

“Priti Patel can re-announce enhanced police cooperation with the French all day, every day, but until there is a political renegotiation to allow refugees safe passage to claim asylum at the UK border in France, this relatively small number of desperate people will continue risking everything for a shot at our protection.

“Ministers should stop playing fantasy politics and step up to protect lives instead.”