‘Majority’ of migrants crossing English Channel are refugees

‘Majority’ of migrants crossing English Channel are refugees, report reveals
3 min read
17 November, 2021
A new report by UK charity Refugee Council has revealed that the 'majority' of people crossing the English Channel on small boats are refugees needing protection - not 'economic migrants', as the British government claimed.
A quarter of arrivals on small boats that have crossed the Channel are from Iran, a report from British charity Refugee Council revealed [Getty]

The “majority” of men, women and children crossing the English Channel in small boats are migrants in genuine need of protection, according to a report by British charity Refugee Council published Wednesday. 

The report - “An analysis of Channel crossings & asylum outcomes” - revealed that 91 percent of people on the small boats come from just ten countries, several of which are in the Middle East and North Africa. 

These top ten countries, including Iran, Iraq and Syria, have a high rate of successful asylum claims, with 61 percent likely to be granted protection at their initial decision, and 59 percent on appeal. 

This evidence has formed the Refugee Council’s conclusion that the majority of migrants on Channel crossings are “likely” to be granted protection, contradicting statements by the UK Home Office that they are mostly “economic migrants” intent on exploiting the system. 

“The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression,” said Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon. 

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The charity's findings undercut oral evidence from UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, who spoke at the House of Lords' Justice and Home Affairs Committee in October 2021 and said: “All the data and evidence has shown...  that in the last 12 months alone 70 percent of individuals who have come to our country illegally via small boats are single men, who are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers.” 

More than 23,000 people are estimated to have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel this year, breaking records from previous years. 

Ninety-eight percent of people who make the crossing apply for asylum, according to the Refugee Council, and often only take the perilous journey due to the lack of other safer routes. 

The report also revealed that 26 percent of arrivals on small boats are from Iran, a country with a history of human rights abuses. The next highest countries of origin for people crossing the Channel is Iraq, Sudan and Syria, in that order. 

Solomon said the British government must “show compassion” to refugees “rather than seeking to cruelly push them back... or punish them with imprisonment.” 

“There needs to be an ambitious expansion of safe routes so people don’t have to take dangerous journeys to reach safety,” he added. 

The UK government has repeatedly framed the heightened number of Channel crossings as grounds to push forward with their Nationality and Borders bill. 

The bill contains punitive measures aimed at discouraging people from taking taking “irregular" routes, like crossing the Channel. It also allows the British government to return migrants to third countries they've passed through, even if they have no connection to the country. 

Refugee groups, such as Refugee Council, have slammed the bill for penalising vulnerable migrants and for breaching the 1951 Refugee Convention.  

The Refugee Council have called for a “humanitarian visa system” so migrants can apply for a visa for the purpose of claiming asylum and greater recognition that people in desperate situations have no other option but to take perilous journeys.