Horst D. Deckert

Who is Crossing The English Channel?


Five more people, including a child, died when trying to cross the English Channel by boat last Tuesday (April 23).

The news came the same day that Rishi Sunak’s government pushed through the next steps of its Rwanda legislation, supposed to deter such attempts to cross from happening. The Rwanda bill has sparked backlash, with a majority of the UK public doubtful that it will cut down on small boat arrivals.

The new law will state that any asylum seeker who has arrived in the UK “illegally” after January 2022 could be deported to Rwanda, where their asylum requests would be processed instead of in the UK. 

Many of these are people who have arrived to the UK by small boats without the necessary documentation, and as Statista’s Anna Fleck shows in the following chart, have had to leave countries of origin that are currently in a state of conflict or unrest.


newly published document published by the UK government states that migrants who are granted asylum in Rwanda will stay there and will not be permitted to return to the UK. Meanwhile, those who are not granted asylum will also not be “removed from Rwanda”.

Instead, the document on the bill says:

“Those who are unsuccessful [in their asylum application] would either depart voluntarily or gain another kind of status in Rwanda with equal treatment to those recognised as refugees.”

According to official data published on the UK government website, a total of 114,345 people were recorded as having crossed the English Channel from France to the United Kingdom by small boat between 2018 and 2023. An analysis by the Migration Observatory reveals that this route has become increasingly busy in recent years, with a peak of 45,789 people detected making the crossing in 2022. Last year, the official figure was 29,437.

Commenting on the law, Filippo Grandi, theUN High Commissioner for Refugees said:

The new legislation marks a further step away from the UK’s long tradition of providing refuge to those in need, in breach of the Refugee Convention. 

Protecting refugees requires all countries – not just those neighboring crisis zones – to uphold their obligations. This arrangement seeks to shift responsibility for refugee protection, undermining international cooperation and setting a worrying global precedent.”

Three quarters of all small boat arrivals between 2018 and 2023 were nationals from just six countries: Iran (21,546), Afghanistan (16,636), Iraq (15,388), Albania (14,480), Syria (8,528) and Eritrea (8,068). The share of nationals from each country ebbs and flows per year depending on various factors, however. For example, where only 32 Indian arrivals were reported in the first quarter of 2022, according to the Migration Observatory, that figure had risen to 670 in the same period in 2023.

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