Majority of people on small boats crossing Channel last year are refugees, new analysis shows - Refugee Council
January 31, 2023

Majority of people on small boats crossing Channel last year are refugees, new analysis shows

  • More than 25,000 who crossed in 2022 allowed to stay as refugees
  • Four in 10 from five countries with grant rates of over 90% or 80%
  • Main safe routes cut by 75 per cent and 36 per cent respectively
  • Latest government plans would lead to tens of thousands facing detention, left in limbo at huge cost

At least six out of ten (60%) of all those who made the dangerous Channel crossing to the UK in small boats last year will be recognised as refugees through the asylum process, new analysis from the Refugee Council shows.

The analysis, based on Home Office data, finds that 25,119 of the 45,746 men, women and children who made the journey in 2022 would be allowed to stay in the UK as refugees.

At the same time the numbers of people starting new lives in the UK under formal resettlement programmes such as family reunion have fallen dramatically – suggesting that more people seeking refugee status are taking the dangerous Channel journey.

The report reveals that most of those crossing the Channel are people fleeing war-torn or oppressive countries where no safe and formal routes such as refugee visas exist for making an asylum claim in the UK.  This is in contrast to those escaping the war in Ukraine, where more than 200,000 visas have been issued under a UK refugee scheme.

The report shows that safe routes for the main nationalities crossing the channel have been drastically reduced – resettlement numbers are 75 per cent lower than in 2019 and the number of family reunion visas issued is 36 per cent below the pre-pandemic level.  For example, thousands of Iranians crossed the channel but just nine were resettled to the UK between January and September 2022.

The report also shows that Government proposals to remove the right to claim asylum from those crossing on boats would lead to thousands of people living in limbo and potentially being locked up in detention at huge cost of hundreds of millions of pounds to the taxpayer.

Just as for those fleeing Ukraine, most of those in the boats are from countries where their safety is at risk. Ukraine does not feature in the main nationalities crossing the Channel on a small boat in 2022 due to the visa scheme in place.A staggering 40 per cent of those on the small boats in 2022 come from just five countries – all of which have major problems with conflict and oppression and have asylum grant rates over 80 or 90 per cent.

The analysis finds that 8,700 children were among those crossing the Channel, around one in five of the overall number.

The report from the Refugee Council comes as the Government prepares new legislation which, according to the Prime Minster would mean immediate detention for anyone entering the UK in a small boat – breaking the UK’s commitment to the Refugee Convention.

Under the convention, anyone fleeing war, persecution or conflict has the right to claim asylum on the soil of a signatory to the Convention.

The report finds that:

  • Over 25,000 men, women and children who crossed the channel in 2022 would be recognised as refugees if the UK Government processed their asylum applications
  • 8,700 children made the journey in small boats – nearly 20 per cent of all who made the journey.
  • 4 in 10 who crossed the channel came from just five countries – Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan.. Three of those nationalities currently have asylum grant rates of 98% and the other two are 86% and 82%.
  • With the exception of Ukrainians, there are far fewer refugees arriving through safe routes than prior to the covid-19 pandemic. Resettlement numbers are 75% lower than in 2019 and the number of family reunion visas issued is 36% lower.
  • The UK Government’s proposed legislation to prevent anyone who crossed the channel from having their asylum claim processed could leave over 45,000 at risk of destitution and homelessness each year, stuck in limbo and potentially facing long periods locked up in detention. The cost to the taxpayer could be as much as £980m a year.
Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council said:

“The majority of the men, women and children who cross the Channel do so because they are desperate to escape war, conflict and persecution.

“They have a genuine and urgent need of help and support – and have no other options. There are simply no safe routes through which they can seek safety – no refugee visa they can apply for like those from Ukraine.

“The government has promised to look at more safe routes, but at the same time has proposed inhumane legislation to detain anyone who crosses the Channel in a small boat, removing the right to claim asylum. This would leave tens of thousands being locked up and treated like criminals. It’s unfair and highlights yet again the lack of a clear process in the UK for most people seeking asylum.

“It is not a crime to seek safety. No parent sends a child on a desperately dangerous journey without good reason.

“The government should put in place a workable and humane plan that provides refugee visas, an orderly asylum system with timely decision making and a workable agreement with our European partners to share responsibility for all those who need safety in the region.”

Read the Refugee Council’s new report, The Truth about Channel Crossings