More than 28,500 people arrived in Britain by crossing the English Channel from France in small boats in 2021. These irregular journeys to the UK across one of the world's busiest shipping lanes have been sharply on the rise in recent years.
According to the UK Home Office, 28,526 people arrived in the UK on small boats last year, compared with just 8,466 in 2020, 1,843 in 2019, and 299 in 2018.
The month of November saw nearly 7,000 small boat arrivals, marking the highest monthly total in the four years since numbers on crossings have started to be logged. That same month, 27 migrants had drowned off the French coast during an attempted crossing in an inflatable boat.
The Home Office commented that such irregular crossings used to be a "phenomenon that was rare prior to 2019 but has since increased sharply in number."
The Home Office said that around 30% of those arriving in the UK in 2021 were Iranian nationals, 21% Iraqi, 11% Eritrean and 9% Syrian, with nine out of ten of all arrivals being male, according to the report.
Another migrant dies in Channel
The numbers were published as media reports confirmed that one man had died while about 30 others were rescued in the English Channel while trying to cross from northern France to Britain on Friday (February 25).
The victim in this case is believed to be a Sudanese national in his 20s, the French prosecutor's office in Boulogne-sur-Mer said.
The location of the incident on Friday, off the coast from Berck, located some 80 kilometers southwest of France's main migrant transit hub of Calais, shows a shift in operations among people smugglers, apparently now covering a wider area of the northern French coast while trying to move migrants to the UK.
A political crisis in the making
The numbers in the Home Office report were higher than the statistics that the UK government had expected, according to the Press Assocation, raising question on how it will tackle the situation in the English Channel moving forward.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that Britain's failure to establish a legal route to claim asylum in the country was in part responsible for the escalating numbers. However, the UK believes that France is underperforming in preventing human trafficking rings from launching the small vessels from its shores.
Either way, the numbers put pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was a key campaigner to leave the European Union, supporting the message that Britain would "take back control" of its borders after Brexit; two years later, Johnson's government still appears to fail his voters' expectations on the issue of immigration control.
New law designed to curb arrival numbers
Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said that planned government reforms to immigration law will help bring immigration numbers back down by criminalizing the act of entering the UK without permission and introduce lifelong prison terms for people smugglers.
Pursglove said that that "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."
In addition to these measures, he added that the government were also planning to strengthen the powers of the UK's Border Force to stop and redirect boats and planning to introduce ways for asylum-seekers to the UK to have their claims processed outside UK territory.
However, the changes to the UK asylum system are being viewed with criticism even within the country. Two of the four nations, Scotland and Wales, just voted against the introduction of the new immigration and asylum law; however, with their number of MPs (members of parliament) easily being outnumbered by English MPs, their vote alone cannot stop the law from passing in parliament.
With AFP, AP