Why record numbers of migrants are crossing the English Channel

Total making perilous journey to UK shores in small boats hit new high as on Monday

A Border Force vessel in Dover
A Border Force vessel in Dover
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

More than 430 migrants crossed the English Channel in small boats to the UK yesterday - the highest number ever recorded in a single day.

The arrivals included a dinghy carrying around 50 people that landed at Dungeness in Kent after crossing the 21-mile Dover Strait, the narrowest part of the channel, says the London Evening Standard.

“Some people raised their hands in the air in apparent celebration at having completed the dangerous journey, while others had to be supported as they walked on to the beach,” says the paper. “Among the arrivals were women and children, some too young to walk.”

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Nearly 8,000 migrants have travelled to the UK in a total of around 345 boats so far this year, including 241 on Sunday.

The Guardian notes that yesterday’s peak came as MPs debated the Nationality and Borders Bill, “branded the ‘anti-refugee bill’ by critics” in Parliament.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told fellow lawmakers that “the British people have had enough of open borders and uncontrolled migration… Enough of dinghies arriving illegally on our shores, directed by organised crime gangs. Enough of people drowning on these dangerous, illegal, and unnecessary journeys.”

Patel’s proposed legislation “would make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally, and people could face up to four years in prison”, explains the newspaper. The bill “also includes clauses that would allow the UK to send asylum seekers to a ‘safe third country’”.

Refugee Council chief executive Enver Solomon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the legislation was a “callous, cold-hearted, brutal response” by a government that is trying to “arrest and prosecute its way out of the problem”.

Explaining the drivers behind the record surge, the BBC’s Jon Donnison told the programme that migrant crossings are “cyclical”. “Obviously, it is a much more appealing route in the summer and the weather has been particularly good with flat seas over the last few days,” he said.

But more importantly, Donnison continued, this overseas route is now the “clear favourite” among people-smuggling gangs as it is seen as less “risky” than using lorries, containers or trains. Indeed, the number of migrants travelling on those land routes has gone down.

Finally, “while the government is pushing back”, Donnison added, “the pull of a better life for migrants - many from some of the world’s most troubled countries - is really strong”.

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