Great Britain

Channel crossings double 2020 total despite Home Office pledge to stop migrant boats

The number of people who have crossed the English Channel in small boats this year has already doubled last year’s total with more than three months still left of 2021.

Just over 17,000 people have crossed the Dover Strait since January, up from less than 8,500 people in the whole of 2020 according to the PA news agency.

On Sunday alone 669 migrants arrived in the UK on dinghies in spite of the Home Office’s vow to make such crossings “unviable”.

The department recently admitted that the evidence that its new immigration plans will reduce Channel crossings is “limited” and that reforms in the Nationality and Borders Bill carry the “potential for direct discrimination on the basis of race”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has also faced criticism for her plan to “push back” boats towards France as they reach the UK, with French officials warning that the policy risks the Channel becoming a “new theatre of human tragedies”.

Amnesty International has called for urgent action over the UK’s treatment of migrants, describing pushbacks as “inhumane” and accusing the government of “criminalising” refugees.

Since the beginning of 2020, more than 25,000 people have attempted to cross the Channel in dinghies, kayaks and other small boats according to PA.

The Home Office’s Clandestine Channel Threat Commander Dan O’Mahoney said it was a “complicated issue” but the government is “determined to tackle the unacceptable rise in dangerous Channel crossings”.

In spite of the recent rise in crossings, the number of asylum applications in the UK fell to around 29,500 in 2020, far lower than in Germany (93,500) and France (122,000).

Amnesty International say that ministers have exploited “highly visible” boat crossings to politicise asylum and create a false impression of an “emergency situation”.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, said: “It’s been appalling to see how ministers and others have sought to manipulate these highly visible crossings to give the impression of an emergency situation on the Kent coast.

“The total number of asylum claims being made in the UK is no greater than it was two years ago, but Channel crossings have become part of the government’s cynical politicisation of asylum.

“We urgently need a new approach to asylum in this country — with inhumane policies like pushbacks and the criminalisation of refugees dropped, and far more done in terms of working with France and others to play a constructive role in assisting people who’ve fled war and persecution.”

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