The number of people who have made the dangerous journey across the Channel in small boats this year is double the total for all of 2020 – with more than three months left of 2021.
At least 669 migrants succeeded in reaching the UK on Sunday, bringing the total for the year to at least 17,085, according to available official data compiled by the PA news agency. Small boat arrivals in 2021 now stand at more than double 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. It 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.
Since the start of last year, more than 25,000 people have risked death crossing to the UK aboard dinghies, kayaks and other small boats, PA data shows.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “The total number of asylum claims being made in the UK is no greater than it was two years ago, but Channel crossings have become part of the government’s cynical politicisation of asylum.
“Every time the home secretary talks about ‘people smugglers’, she ignores her own failure to open up safe and legal asylum routes. The people making these dangerous sea crossings are doing so out of desperation, largely because there are no safe and legal routes open to them.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “We must remember that behind the statistics on Channel crossings are the lives of ordinary men, women and children who are forced to flee their home through no fault of their own.”
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said the UK must focus on “keeping people safe, not keeping people out”.
He added: “Ministers need to tear up their cruel, unworkable and unlawful anti-refugee bill that will criminalise many refugees, and create a system that’s effective, just and compassionate.”
The Home Office’s clandestine channel threat commander, Dan O’Mahoney, said it was “a complicated issue”, but the government was “determined to tackle the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings”.
O’Mahoney said: “Working with police and international partners, there have been nearly 300 arrests, 65 convictions related to small boat criminality, and our targeted efforts have prevented more than 12,000 migrant attempts.”
The continued crossings come despite the perilous nature of the Dover Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Since the beginning of 2019, more than a dozen people have died or gone missing while trying to cross to the UK in small boats.