Record numbers of people are running the gauntlet of the English Channel in small boats and rubber dinghies, with nearly 6,000 breaking immigration law to reach the UK in the last six months.
The uptick comes despite Home Secretary Priti Patel’s vows to make crossing what is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes “unviable” for the smugglers and immigrants.
According to the PA news agency, which has tracked and analysed crossings for the last 18 months, more than 5,900 people have succeeded in reaching the UK aboard small boats so far in 2021.
A total of 8,417 made the journey in the whole of 2020—four times the number for 2019.
In 2018, just 299 people made the crossing, according to Home Office figures.
A Home Office spokesperson said, “These crossings are completely unacceptable and we have redoubled efforts with French authorities by increasing beach patrols, intelligence sharing, and investment in surveillance as we enter the summer months.
“As a result we have now seen over 5,000 people prevented by the French from making the dangerous crossing so far this year.
“As organised criminal gangs adapt their approach, so will we. But to truly close this lethal route we must fix the broken system through our New Plan for Immigration, which will be firm on those who abuse the system and fair on those in genuine need of protection.”
Some charities have criticised the Government over the figures.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “The Government’s obsession with trying to build Fortress Britain has created a people smuggler’s dream.”
“And their planned refugee Bill looks set to be an unworkable, unlawful and expensive disaster that will do nothing to stop refugees risking their lives on the Channel.”
Several people have died attempting the busy 21-mile crossing in recent years.
In October, a Kurdish-Iranian family including small children died when their migrant boat sank off the French coast.
Channel crossings make up only a small proportion of illegal immigration to the UK. The vast majority of illegal immigrants in the UK are those who have overstayed visas, failed to receive asylum, or have obtained visas illegally.
The latest figures on channel crossings come amid reports that the home office may introduce controversial legislation to enable asylum seekers to be sent to process centres abroad.
There is little precise information on levels of what might be categorized as illegal migration into the UK, not least because the definition of “illegal” migration is also hard to pin down and is subject to different interpretations and uses.
A report by the London School of Economics in 2007 (pdf) estimated the number of “irregular” migrants was 533,000—a little under one percent of the population.