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

Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

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 25,600, according to official data.

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.

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.

Last Tuesday, ITV News reported on the migrant dinghy travelling from France to the UK - without any hindrance from the French authorities

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.

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.

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.

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness Credit: 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.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The British public have had enough of seeing people die in the Channel while ruthless criminal gangs profit from their misery and our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken system which encourages migrants to make this lethal journey.”