Revealed: Channel migrant crossings five times higher than last year

Five times as many migrants crossed the Channel to the UK in the first eight months of this year compared with the same period last year, Sky News can reveal.

Analysis of the data found that at least 4,343 migrants have landed in small boats or been rescued between 1 January 2020 and 11 August, compared with at least 857 between the same dates in 2019.

Already, more than twice as many migrants have arrived in small boats in the first eight months of 2020 than the whole of last year, when at least 1,823 arrived.

It compares with just 297 migrants using small vessels to reach UK shores in 2018.

An illustration of the pressure the arrivals are putting local authorities under is also revealed in figures from Kent County Council, which says that the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children referred for care has more than doubled in the first eight months of the year and has already surpassed last year’s total by 22%.

The figures will heap further pressure on the government to get to grips with a situation that MPs and local councillors in Kent have described as unacceptable.

The month with the highest number of arrivals so far was July this year, when at least 1,216 migrants came or were brought ashore in Kent after setting off from the coast around Calais.

In the same month in 2019, at least 170 arrived.

In total, since an upsurge in migrants crossing the Channel in small boats began in November 2018, more than 6,400 people have made the perilous journey across the Straits of Dover to the UK in often tiny, unseaworthy craft.

In 2020 so far, Sky News found there had been at least 323 incidents in which a boat was intercepted and its occupants brought ashore, or migrants were intercepted in Kent or discovered to have made it to the UK.

We understand that many of the boats are stolen from yards and stores around northern France and Belgium, providing a headache for local police and boat owner organisations.

The number of crossings appears to be driven in part by an increase in those making an attempt from different countries than before.

Analysis in 2019 found that the vast majority of crossings were being made by people who presented themselves as Iranian.

Now, while Iranians are still the largest group making their way across the Channel, they have been joined by people presenting themselves as being from many African and other Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

In 2020, 44% of incidents (most of which are interceptions of boats by Border Force officials) in which the nationality of boat occupants is known involve Iranians, but the number involving Iraqis is close behind at 37%.

A growing number of Syrians are making their way from the war-torn country to the UK using small boats.

As are those from other conflict-affected countries like Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan and the West African Sahel region.

Many may be asylum seekers or refugees fleeing violence or persecution in their homelands.

It is not known how many of those making the journey are economic migrants, whose intention is to try to get a better life by finding work, but some of the countries the migrants have said they are coming from include allies of the UK.

These countries, like India, Kuwait, Turkey and Ethiopia, are less affected by conflict or are even conflict-free, but do sometimes have human rights records that are a matter of concern to activists.

In among the data are hints of some of the personal stories at the heart of the migrants’ journeys.

There have been numerous boats that have contained children, and presumably whole families, as well as some that are unaccompanied.

Some of the children seen by witnesses on the ground have been toddlers and even babies strapped to the chests of men and women helped out of the boats by Border Force staff.

The data suggests the boats are getting bigger or contain more people, which may be putting the migrants lives in more danger, if the number of people per boat is increasing but the boats are staying the same size.

In 2018, the average number of people involved in an incident (which is usually the number in a boat that has been intercepted), was 6.7.

In 2019 it was 11.9. In 2020, so far, the number is 13.4.

This has been reflected in some of the reports, with the largest boat so far seen bringing migrants across the Channel containing 64 people, 48 men and 16 women, which came in to land at Samphire Hoe beach near Dover on 3 June, before the occupants were intercepted by the authorities.

Two other boats have contained more than 40 people.

So far, only two migrants are known to have died while trying to cross the Channel, but the bodies of two Iraqis were washed up on French beaches last October, assumed to have drowned while attempting to cross.

Just three days later, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would halve Channel crossings made by refugees by the end of that month, and eliminate them by spring 2020.

With boat occupancy increasing year-on-year, it is likely to raise concerns that more will perish while making the journey in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

The Home Office has said that no one should be making these “dangerous and illegally-facilitated crossings… France is a safe country with a well-run asylum system”.

It has added that last year UK immigration enforcement officers made 418 arrests, leading to 203 convictions for a total of 437 years, with 101 of the convictions for people smuggling.

RAF planes have been in action on Wednesday to support Border Force operations after the Home Office sought help from the Ministry of Defence.

Immigration minister Chris Philp travelled to Paris on Tuesday to seek stronger enforcement measures amid the ever rising number of migrant crossings – aided by the fine weather in the South East.

Speaking after the Paris meeting, he said both countries had “renewed and reaffirmed their absolute commitment to” making sure “this border is properly policed and this route is completely ended”.

It came after Ms Patel said she wanted the route to become “unviable”.

Sky News has contacted the Home Office for comment about the figures.

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