Record year sees more than 28,300 people cross English Channel to the UK

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More than 28,300 people crossed the English Channel to the UK aboard small boats in 2021, triple the number for 2020.

But arrivals will continue and more people will drown in the narrow sea between France and Britain if the Government pursues its “dangerous and callous policy”, ministers have been warned.

Last year’s record number – an increase of about 20,000 on 2020 – came despite millions of pounds promised to French authorities to tackle the issue.

The last 12 months have also seen smugglers packing more and more people aboard larger and larger dinghies, sometimes with deadly consequences.

A Home Office minister said the Government is “reforming” its approach to asylum through its New Plan for Immigration.

Figures for small boat crossings are based on Home Office data obtained and analysed by the PA news agency.

Between November 10 and 16 more than 3,100 made the perilous crossing, the most in any seven-day stretch in the current crisis.

The same month also saw a new record for a single day, with 1,185 people reaching British shores aboard 33 boats on November 11.

Going into 2021 the most arrivals on a single day had been 416, set in September 2020.

Overall, at least 28,395 people reached the UK aboard small boats in 2021, according to PA analysis.

Despite international efforts to crack down on people smugglers, gangs have continued to ply the Dover Strait with their deadly trade, charging thousands of pounds for a berth in flimsy inflatable boats.

The dinghies seen leaving French shores and being towed into Dover have noticeably increased in size over the past year with some carrying as many as 50 people.

This is supported by PA data which showed an average of about 28 people travelling aboard each small boat that arrived in the UK in 2021, up from just over 13 in 2020.

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
French police pass a deflated dinghy on the beach in Wimereux near Calais (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The dinghy was likened to a blow-up pool by French interior minister Gerald Darmanin.

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said that the UK Government’s policy will lead to more deaths in the Dover Strait.

He said: “People will continue to cross the Channel in flimsy boats, and smugglers will continue to profit, unless ministers open up more routes for refugees to claim asylum here.

“[In November] we saw the deadly result of their strategy of keeping people out rather than keeping people safe, when at least 27 people died near our coast.

“And yet the Government wants to legalise this dangerous and callous policy in its Anti-Refugee Bill, which will only lead to more people drowning. It must wake up and scrap this bill now.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

At least 120,441 people arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea in 2021, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

At least 1,839 people are estimated to be dead or missing, according to the same data.

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais which supports refugees living in northern France, said rising numbers of small boat arrivals in Britain reflect a shift away from attempts to cross by lorry.

She told PA: “They are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, having lost family members in bloody conflicts, suffered horrific torture and inhumane persecution.

“If the Government were serious about stopping people smugglers, it would create a safe way for people to claim asylum and put people smugglers out of business once and for all.”

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of Refugee Council, said: “This Government must change its approach and instead of seeking to punish or push away people seeking safety because of the type of journey they have made to the UK, they must create and commit to safe routes.

“As a country, we can save lives and empower people, who have already been through so much, to give back to the communities that welcome them.”

Home Office minister Tom Pursglove MP said: “Seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel.”

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people adrift in a dinghy before being rescued off the coast of Folkestone, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Pursglove added: “The public have been crying out for reform for two decades and that’s what this Government is delivering through our New Plan for Immigration.

“The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and introduce life sentences for those who facilitate illegal entry into the country.

“It will also strengthen the powers of Border Force to stop and redirect vessels, while introducing new powers to remove asylum seekers to have their claims processed outside the UK.

“MPs have already voted to reform this broken and abusive system and the sooner the House of Lords approves the Borders Bill, the sooner these reforms can be delivered.”

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