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Migrant crossings: 2021 marks record year with more than 28,300 people entering UK via English Channel

Last year saw a record number of migrants entering the UK aboard small boats via the English Channel, latest data suggests.

More than 28,300 people made the treacherous journey in 2021 – triple the number for the year before, according to figures from the Home Office and analysed by the PA news agency.

The figures come as ministers are warned that arrivals will continue and more people will drown in the stretch of sea between France and Britain if the government pursues its current “dangerous and callous” immigration plan.

November – the record month for crossings

The highest number of crossings was recorded in November, when at least 6,869 people reached the country, with more than 3,100 of those arriving in the space of six days.

On 24 November, at least 27 people died when their boat, which was likened to a blow-up pool, sank in the Channel.

During the same month, a new daily record for the number of people reaching British shores aboard small boats was set when 1,185 arrived on Remembrance Day.

In 2020, the highest daily figure was 416 which was recorded in September of that year.

Overall, at least 28,395 people reached the UK aboard small boats in 2021, according to PA analysis.

Government plans to tackle the issue

The yearly figure comes despite the UK government promising millions of pounds to French authorities to tackle the issue and the announcement of a new plan for immigration under the Nationality and Borders Bill.

If passed, the bill, which is currently in the House of Lords for readings, would make knowingly arriving in the UK without permission a criminal offence.

Home Office minister Tom Pursglove MP said: “Seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel.”

He said the government is “reforming” its approach by “making the tough decisions to end the overt exploitation of our laws and UK taxpayers”.

Mr Pursglove added: “The public has been crying out for reform for two decades and that’s what this government is delivering through our New Plan for Immigration.”

What is the Nationality and Borders Bill, why is it so controversial and what do MPs want to change?

The government ‘must wake up’

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said that the UK government’s policy will lead to more deaths in the Dover Strait.

He said: “People will continue to cross the Channel in flimsy boats, and smugglers will continue to profit, unless ministers open up more routes for refugees to claim asylum here.

“[In November] we saw the deadly result of their strategy of keeping people out rather than keeping people safe, when at least 27 people died near our coast.

“And yet the government wants to legalise this dangerous and callous policy in its anti-refugee bill, which will only lead to more people drowning. It must wake up and scrap this bill now.”

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais which supports refugees living in northern France, said rising numbers of small boat arrivals in Britain reflect a shift away from attempts to cross by lorry.

She said: “If the government were serious about stopping people smugglers, it would create a safe way for people to claim asylum and put people smugglers out of business once and for all.”

What about the rest of Europe?

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Despite the increasing numbers, the UK’s small boat arrivals are a fraction of the number of people arriving in Europe.

At least 120,441 people arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea in 2021, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

At least 1,839 people are estimated to be dead or missing, according to the same data.

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