The UK government has confirmed that 254 migrants crossed the Channel in seven small boats on Sunday, May 1, after an 11-day pause in crossings. More than 100 are reported to have arrived already on May 2.
Pictures of men, women and children arriving in Dover on Sunday were testament to the latest groups of migrant arrivals from across the Channel. According to the latest UK government figures, 254 migrants crossed the Channel from the French coast in seven small boats in a single day on May 1.
By lunchtime on May 2, the BBC were reporting that more than 100 people had already arrived that morning in Dover. This time, the majority of them were "young men" said a BBC reporter in Dover to the World At One on BBC Radio 4.
According to figures published by the PA news agency, the numbers of those who have crossed the Channel since January are already almost 7,000 (6,947). That is more than three times higher than those crossing in the same period January to end April 2021 and more than six times the figure for the same dates in 2020, according to a report on Sky News.
It is estimated that the numbers of those crossing this year will more than double last year's 28,000 figure.
British military patrols Channel
The government in recent months had announced a series of measures to stem migration across the Channel. As part of that those measures the Ministry of Defense took control of operations in the Channel in April. Up to 300 military servicemen, navy ships and surveillance drones are being deployed in the Channel to that end, according to the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper.
Military personnel are not only being used to patrol the Channel and conduct "sweeps" from helicopters and drones in the air to check that "all migrants and their dinghies have been recovered," reported the Daily Mail, but they are also helping with processing once migrants reach land in Dover.
The UK government website stated that the "Ministry of Defense does not believe that any migrants arrived on their own terms in a small boat from the English Channel." This implies that the government believes the migrants paid smugglers "with the aim of gaining entry to the UK without a visa or permission to enter."
Soon after the announcement of the UK government’s plans to fly those who cross the Channel to reach the UK in this way to Rwanda to process their asylum claim, there had been a pause in the number of arrivals.
Some right-wing and pro-Brexit commentators believed that the Rwanda plan might already be acting as a deterrent. The headline on GB News on April 29 stated "migrant Channel crossings fall to zero after Rwanda scheme announcement."
However, in its news story, GB News said that "Number 10 [UK Government] sources told the Sun [UK Tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch] high winds in the Channel were more likely to be the cause of this and record amounts [of migrants] could still cross in the summer." PA news agency also reported that two other longer gaps without crossings had occurred in 2022 before the Rwanda deal was announced.
The Rwanda plan could be challenged in the High Courts in Britain and has already been strongly criticized by a number of migrant rights groups and the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, as "inhumane" and unworkable.
High court challenge
Last week, the charity Freedom from Torture launched a challenge to the government. The group's chief executive Sonya Sceats called the Rwanda plan "cruel" and added that it is "not only deeply immoral and likely unlawful, it would also deny torture survivors and others access to vital trauma services like those provided by Freedom from Torture."
Moreover, the legal firm Leigh Day, which has taken on a number of high profile human rights cases, announced a challenge in a press release on their website on April 28.
Leigh Day said it had sent a "legal letter" to the government in which they asked to "see underlying policy, risk assessments and related documents that were used to help formulate the controversial policy on cooperation between the governments of the UK and Rwanda."
The letter challenging the Rwanda plan was sent "just days before the High Court was due to hear applications for [another] judicial review brought by Freedom from Torture and other organizations," regarding the Home Office’s "Channel boats pushbacks policy," stated Leigh Day.
The British government had previously announced that there was a legal basis to turn back boats in the Channel to French waters, and it intended to do so. The Nationality and Border bill was expected to strengthen the government's powers to do this. The policy was dropped however last week just ahead of the planned hearings. It had also been questioned by unions representing Border Force officers, the French government and many human rights groups, as well as politicians.
Nationality and Borders bill becomes law
Despite opposition, the UK government assured the Sun newspaper that they were confident the plan would be "operational as soon as possible ... we hope to make the first flights shortly."
The Conservative government’s Nationality and Borders Bill was written into law last week on April 28. This law, introduced by UK Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Priti Patel, could potentially give the Home Secretary the power to enact the new immigration rules that she has long been pushing for.
One part of the bill plans to differentiate between what the government calls "genuine asylum seekers" who arrive by legal routes in search of safety from those who "arrive illegally" with no papers or permission, for instance across the Channel. Migrant rights groups say that this would be in violation of international asylum law which does not question how someone might arrive.
On April 28, Priti Patel tweeted that the passing of the Nationality and Borders Bill into law was a "huge milestone in our commitment to our promise to the British public – a fair but firm immigration system."
The bill will allow for "maximum life sentences" for those found guilty of people smuggling, "increased maximum sentence for arriving illegally into the UK;" "powers to speed up removal of failed asylum claimants and dangerous foreign criminals;" and the potential to block those who have traveled through a "safe country" [like France] prior to reaching the UK and "stop them from gaining immediate entry into the asylum system." Lastly, the bill gives the government the "powers to make it easier to process asylum claims overseas," for instance in countries like Rwanda.