Number of migrants crossing Channel in boats passes 5,000

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The number of migrants who have crossed the Channel in small boats this year has passed 5,000, analysis shows, as the UK government continues to pursue a “militarised” response to the growing numbers.

A further five people arrived in England on Friday, risking their lives in force 8 gales, rain showers and rough seas. It is understood the five men presented themselves as Sudanese and Chadian nationals, and were brought into Dover to be questioned by immigration officials.

Analysis by PA Media shows the total number of migrant boat arrivals for 2020 exceeds 5,000, more than double the 1,900 known to have made the 21-mile trip last year.

The milestone was passed after a Sudanese asylum seeker, Abdulfatah Hamdallah, drowned in the Channel on Wednesday, when the supermarket-bought dinghy he was in was punctured by the shovels being used as makeshift oars.

The UK government continues to pursue a hardline approach to the crossings, focusing on making the route “unviable” despite humanitarian experts saying the only way to reduce the crossings is to improve safe and legal routes to the UK for asylum seekers.

The recently appointed clandestine channel threat commander, Dan O’Mahoney, revealed late on Thursday that British and French authorities were talking about increasing surveillance of the waters, including with aerial support and more patrols in northern France.

The Royal Air Force has already launched aircraft over the strait of Dover to help Border Force officials spot people attempting the crossing, following a request from the Home Office for military assistance.

The different approaches to the rise in crossings by the UK and French governments have led to increased tensions between the countries, with one Calais MP blaming the death of Hamdallah on the UK’s policy of insisting asylum claims be made on British soil. The Labour party has accused the government of lacking “compassion and competence” in its approach and attempting to “militarise” the response to a humanitarian crisis.

While the latest tally of small-boat arrivals in the UK is a record, it is still lower than other European countries, and is likely to have resulted in a drop in crossings made by other means, such as on lorries or ferries.

According to the UN refugee agency, there have been 16,942 sea arrivals in Italy so far in 2020, as well as 10,875 in Spain and 8,697 in Greece.

The number of arrivals across the Channel is dwarfed by overall immigration to the UK: 677,000 people moved to the country in 2019.

Home Office data shows there were about 36,000 asylum applications made in the UK last year. This compares with 165,615 asylum applications in Germany, 151,070 in France, 117,800 in Spain and 77,275 in Greece in the same period, according to Eurostat.

In the year to March 2020, 20,339 people were offered protection by the UK in the form of being granted asylum, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave and resettlement.

Declared nationalities of migrants intercepted by Border Force have included: Iraqi, Iranian, Sudanese, Yemeni, Syrian, Eritrean, Kuwaiti, Tajikstani, Vietnamese, Guinean, Malian, Ethiopian, Turkish, Afghan, Palestinian, Sri Lankan, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Pakistani, Chadian, Somali, Togolese, Nigerian, Libyan, South Sudanese, Albanian and Chinese.