8,692children crossed the Channel in 2022.
In 2022, there were 45,746 men, women and children who crossed the Channel in a small boat to reach the UK. Each of those people will have had their own experiences before, during and after making that crossing. Many will have been very traumatic.
Our analysis has shown that over 25,000 men, women and children who crossed the channel in 2022 – six out of ten of all those who made the crossing – would be recognised as refugees if the UK Government processed their asylum applications. Given a significant number of people will be recognised as refugees after appealing their initial decision, the ultimate number is likely to be even higher.
4 in 10 who crossed the channel came from just five countries – Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan. All of those nationalities currently have asylum grant rates of 82% or higher.
Home Office data tells us that of those who made the journey last year:
- 7 in 10 were adult men
- 1 in 10 were adult women
- 2 in 10 were children
This means that an estimated 8,692 children were among those who crossed the Channel in 2022. We know from our work with children who arrive alone, or as part of family groups, that they are very likely to be traumatised, having undergone a dangerous, arduous journey. They are often then met with suspicion, have their age doubted, and can end up in unsuitable and unsafe accommodation.
An estimated 34,461 people who made the crossing in 2022 came from just seven countries:
People from three of those countries – Afghanistan, Syria, and Eritrea – had an asylum grant rate of 98%, and those from Sudan and Iran had a grant rate of 86% and 82% respectively in the year to September 2022.
The majority of people crossing the Channel and applying for asylum in the UK would, if their claims were processed, be recognised as refugees by the Government. A significant number making the crossing are women and children. However, with the exceptions of those on offer for Ukrainians, there are exceedingly limited safe routes available.
|Nationality||Estimated arrivals via small boat in 2022||Asylum grant rate|
Most refugees crossing the Channel in recent times have come from seven countries. This section summarises the challenges faced in those countries, and includes testimony from some of those who have fled to sanctuary in the UK. Some names have been changed.
The Sudanese people have faced violence and conflict for many years. Recent protests have led to killings, disappearances, torture, sexual violence against women, beatings, arrests and detentions. Political instability following a military coup has hampered efforts to deliver human rights improvements, while violence in the Darfur region has continued.
“I reached a point in Sudan where I had to be with or against them. If you are against them you will get killed. If I am with them I will lose myself and my family, those people are not human. I want my boys to be proud of me, not ashamed.”
– Mohammed, Sudan
In Syria, arbitrary arrest and torture are common, while millions of people are going hungry as aid is diverted amid economic crisis. The Syrian-Russian military alliance now controls most of the country other than Idlib, where 3 million civilians are trapped.
“My brother died in front of me, I was on the balcony, my brother was amongst friends in front of the house and a bomb or rocket came out of the sky and hit the group… This is embedded inside my mind…
“It was really, really difficult before we left, the bombing was continuous. My mum, after my brother died, she was so afraid for us girls so we weren’t allowed to go out. She was so protective and worried about what might happen to us…
“You feel as if you are losing your mind.”
– Alaa, Syria
Eritrea is a dictatorship with an extremely repressive government. Citizens face forced labour and conscription, restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and faith and no independent civil society organisations, media or judiciary. Eritrean Defense Forces have committed massacres, summary executions, sexual violence, pillage, attacks on refugee camps and destruction of crops in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
“In Eritrea you must join the army and I do not want to join the army. It is dangerous there.”
– Jemal*, age 16, Eritrea
Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban in August 2021, leading to human rights violations restricting the rights of women and girls in particular. Journalists have been detained and beaten, while there have been revenge killings and disappearances of opponents. Armed groups linked to Islamic State have carried out attacks, killing and injuring hundreds. Over 90pc of the Afghan population faces serious food insecurity.
“I was told to leave Afghanistan or I would be killed, and if I return I am sure I will be killed by the Taliban.”
– Amir*, age 14, Afghanistan
“With the existence of the Taliban I do not have hopes for my country… They are coming back to the country to take revenge, kill us and to destroy the country. I can’t say anything positive about what will happen in my country.”
– Adil*, Afghanistan.
“They have some problem with Tajik people, and Hazara people, they think should be killed in Afghanistan. They attack events, places such as mosques and schools in the west of Kabul, where there are going to be these other groups.”
– Zahra, Afghanistan
People in Iraq face the risk of wrongful arrest and imprisonment, torture and extrajudicial killings. There are reports of enforced disappearances, while millions of Iraqis face social and economic rights violations.
“Before the trouble happened in Iraq things were fine and everything was good. But when the problems started it was bad, we couldn’t live there.”
– Ahmed, Iraq
Recent demonstrations in Iran and government action in response have hit the headlines, underlining the way the authorities deal with dissent. Protesters face excessive and lethal force and abuse and detention in detention.
“Iran has a lot of political and religious problems… Due to religious problems I was forced to flee the country… then I came here by dinghy. It was a huge risk, basically. It was in the middle of winter, I didn’t have any other chance to take.”
– Farzad, Iran
Criminal and sexual exploitation, including trafficking, is a problem in Albania, where blood feuds have also led some to flee the country. The vast majority of asylum claims by women and girls are granted by the UK authorities.
“The main thing is trafficking, and there are connections with the mafia in Italy.
“For women, it’s sometimes about the way their husbands treat them, they force them to work in modern slavery…
“The system is not good in Albania…., there’s lots of corruption. People might want to kill them for money.”
– Fatbardha, Albania
Country information from Human Rights Watch
75%of people who made the crossing in 2022 came from just seven countries.
Everyone agrees that the issue of Channel crossings, with the dangerous and sometimes fatal journeys that they entail, needs to be addressed. But as the government turns to rhetoric and bluster and promises to “stop small boats”, misconceptions about why refugees are risking their lives to cross the Channel are born and reinforced. Many have been left wondering why refugees leave “safe” countries, such as France, to seek protection in the UK instead.
It’s important to first acknowledge the global context, which is that the vast majority of refugees – 72% – live in a neighbouring country to the one they have fled. Other European countries including France receive many more asylum applications than the UK. The people who do come to the UK to claim asylum represent a tiny proportion of refugees globally. Here are some of the factors that lead to them seeking protection here.
- Family and community. Seeking out family and community is a human impulse, and it is only natural for refugees to want to be reunited with their loved ones. With the UK’s restricted pathways to family reunion, however, refugee families torn apart by war are forced to face indefinite separation or make the desperate choice to risk their lives to be reunited.
- What is safe? A country that you consider “safe” may not feel safe to every individual. Refugees may have had bad experiences in a country that make them feel unsafe or unwelcome. Or they may have had difficulties accessing that country’s asylum system. Poor living conditions and lack of food, shelter and healthcare are also factors that push people to take even greater risks in their journey to safety.
One refugee, Veritasy, told us that he did not feel safe in France: “The police are very cruel…So from Calais we were thinking about moving to another safe place.” For some, crossing the Channel feels like their only hope; the only way for the nightmare to finally end: “It was psychologically not a logical decision, but I had no other choice. Either way I’ll die; either at sea, in France or by going back to Syria. That’s how I found myself in a boat going to England.”
- Language and familiarity. Refugees are forced to leave everything behind as they flee their homes; their only hope being the chance to rebuild their lives in a foreign country. Familiarity with some of the culture and language of the UK can at least make this process a little easier and allow refugees to feel more safe and at ease in a difficult and challenging situation. Familiarity may also come from historical links between the UK and a refugee’s country or from the UK’s reputation internationally as a safe and democratic country.
Farzad, who came to the UK from Iran, explained that language was an important reason for wanting to come to the UK: “I knew English before I came. My priority was the UK. I was in France for a while, but the language was a problem for me, I have studied English back in my country, I thought at my age, I’m 45, to start learning a language would take me a while.”
- Element of choice. Not all refugees get to choose the destination of their journey. People smugglers may dictate where refugees go and may even provide refugees with false information about how dangerous the journey across the Channel actually is.
The bottom line is that there is a myriad of reasons why someone might be willing to risk their lives in search for safety in the UK. And the reality is that most refugees do not travel through multiple safe countries in search for a new home. Nor do most of them end up in the UK. In fact, the majority of refugees are hosted in countries that neighbour their countries of origin. Those who do take great risks to come to the UK do so because there is no better alternative – they are men, women and children fleeing war and oppression. The real problem is that we are not offering them safe routes to take to make a claim for asylum.
The vast majority of refugees do not have access to safe routes to reach the UK.
In the first nine months of 2022, 24,881 people from the seven countries set out above crossed the channel. During the same period, only 867 people from those same countries were resettled through a safe route, working in collaboration with the UNHCR, to the UK. The majority of those people were resettled from Syria, with only 14 and 9 people resettled from Eritrea and Iran respectively.
|Nationality||Arrivals via small boat January – September 2022||People resettled to the UK January – September 2022|
Ukrainian refugees do have access to safe routes through the Ukraine Family Scheme and the Homes for Ukraine Scheme (as of 3 January 2023, 210,800 visas had been issued to people displaced by the war in Ukraine through these two schemes.). As a result, there were no Ukrainians recorded as having crossed the Channel during the first nine months of 2022.
The safe routes available to refugees from other parts of the world are extremely limited, and fewer people are currently accessing them compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic. Refugee resettlement provided in collaboration with the UNHCR is currently 75% lower than the pre-Covid level in 2019, and refugee family reunion visas are 36% down on their pre-Covid level.
|Safe Route||2019||Year to Sep 2022|
|Family Reunion visas issued||7456||4786|
Source: Home Office statistics year ending September 2022, Asylum and resettlement summary tables, tables Res_01, Fam_01
-36%Refugee family reunion visas are down 36% from their pre-Covid levels.
For more detailed analysis about Channel crossings, refer to our briefing ‘The Truth about Channel Crossings.’