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How many migrants cross the English Channel in small boats?


Migrants in a boar after being picked up in the channel by the Border Force

A record number of people have crossed the English Channel in small boats this year.

The government hopes its controversial plan to send some migrants to Rwanda will deter people from using this route to come to the UK.

How many migrants cross the Channel?

More than 40,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far in 2022.

This is the highest number since these figures began to be collected in 2018.

In 2021, the total was 28,526 people, while in 2020 it was 8,404.

Graphic showing people crossing the English Channel as at 1 Nov 2022

Graphic showing people crossing the English Channel as at 1 Nov 2022

Almost all of the people arriving in small boats claim asylum. So far this year, 93% of arrivals have applied for government protection.

In the year to June 2022 the UK received over 60,000 asylum claims. Small boat arrivals have accounted for roughly half of these claims.

Of the 6,910 small boat arrivals who have received an initial decision since 2018, 49% were granted asylum or another type of leave. The rest were refused.

Who are the migrants and where are they from?

In the first six months of 2022, more than half were from three countries:

  • 18% came from Albania

  • 18% from Afghanistan

  • 15% from Iran

The number of Albanians making the crossing has rose sharply since 2021.

Last year Iranians were the biggest group, accounting for 30% of all small boat arrivals. Another 21% were Iraqis, 11% Eritreans and 9% Syrians.

In 2021, 75% of all small boat arrivals were men aged 18 to 39 – with about 5% of arrivals men aged 40 or over. Seven percent were women aged over 18, and 12% were children under 18 (of whom three-quarters were male).

Graphic showing the nationalities of people arriving into the UK by small boat: Albania 2,165;  Afghanistan 2,066;  Iran 1,723;  Iraq 1,573;  Syria 1,041;  Eritrea 850;  Sudan 460;  Egypt 305;  Vietnam 279;  Kuwait 198

Graphic showing the nationalities of people arriving into the UK by small boat: Albania 2,165; Afghanistan 2,066; Iran 1,723; Iraq 1,573; Syria 1,041; Eritrea 850; Sudan 460; Egypt 305; Vietnam 279; Kuwait 198

What are the ‘safe and legal routes’ for asylum seekers?

The UK currently has nine “safe and legal” routes open to asylum seekers.

Five of these routes are country-specific, targeting applicants from Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Ukraine. The other four are open to refugees globally:

  • UK Resettlement Scheme – opened in 2021 and prioritizes those from regions in conflict. It planned to resettle 5,000 in its first year but resettled 1,125 refugees.

  • Community Sponsorship Scheme – opened in 2016 for local community groups to provide accommodation and support for refugees. In 2021, 144 people came through this route.

  • Refugee Family Reunion – opened in 2011 to partners and children under 18 of those already granted protection in the UK. In 2021, 6,134 visas were granted through this route.

  • Mandate Resettlement Scheme – opened in 1995 to resettle refugees who have a close family member in the UK who can accommodate them. The scheme has resettled around 430 refugees since 2004 but only two people were resettled in 2021.

These routes are resettlement schemes that grant refugee status to vulnerable groups. These groups do not have to apply for refugee status but are referred for resettlement by the UN Refugee Agency.

The Refugee Council has said that “for the vast majority of refugees, there is no safe way for them to seek asylum in the UK”. It says that people who do not qualify for government schemes may be forced to enter the UK illegally, since they cannot apply from overseas.

What is the Rwanda plan?

The government wants to send some asylum seekers to Rwanda for their claims to be processed.

It argues this will deter people who arrive in the UK through what it calls “illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods”.

However, the numbers crossing the Channel have continued to rise since the policy was announced.

The plan was widely condemned by charities and campaign groups, who have launched a series of legal challenges. The policy is current on hold until a decision is reached in the courts.

Graphic showing that most people arriving by small boat are men under 40

Graphic showing that most people arriving by small boat are men under 40

However, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the government still wants to go ahead. She said it was her “dream” to see the first flight leave for Rwandaand that she was also seeking asylum partnerships with other countries.

Ms Braverman has also talked about the need for closer co-operation with Franceas well as an increased police presence on the French coastline and the use of drones to monitor crossings.

What happens when people arrive in the UK?

Most of the people who come by boat claim asylum on arrival in the UK. An asylum seeker is a person who has applied for the right to seek shelter and protection in another country.

Asylum seekers have an initial interview and – if their case is accepted – they can apply to remain in the UK.

However, recent changes to immigration law means an asylum claim can be rejected if the applicant has a connection to a safe third country. This would include passing through France on the way to the UK.

The Home Office says applicants should receive a decision within six months statistics show that over 70% of applicants had not heard back within that time.

Speaking to MPs in October about channel crossings, Home Office official Abi Tierney said that 96% of claims from 2021 are still to be processed.

During the application process, many people are kept in hotels due to a shortage of available accommodation. Some asylum seekers are also held in immigration detention centers.

They usually cannot work while their case is being considered.

If their application for asylum is accepted, they are allowed to stay in the UK. If it is rejected, they face being returned to the country they came from, although they can appeal against the decision.



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