How migrant boat crisis reached UK shores – all your questions answered

After 27 people died in what the International Organisation for Migration said was the biggest single recorded loss of life in the Channel, we take a look at how we got here – and what we can do to prevent further tragedy

Migrants are helped ashore from a RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeboat at a beach in Dungeness
Migrants are helped ashore from a RNLI lifeboat at a beach in Dungeness, Kent, on Wednesday

At least 27 people headed for the UK drowned yesterday in the ­English Channel near Calais after the boat carrying them sank.

The International Organisation for Migration said it was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began collecting data in 2014.

Here we look at how the migrant crisis has developed…

Why do migrants want to come to the UK?

Many are fleeing danger and persecution in their own countries.

Anti-immigration campaigners always claim they come here, rather than stay in France, for our benefits.

But the reality is they get less benefits in the UK than in France, £39.63 a week compared to £43.50 per week.

A damaged inflatable dinghy and a sleeping bag abandoned by migrants on the beach near Wimereux



In France they can try to get a job after six months, unlike the UK.

But black market jobs are much more readily available in the UK for illegal migrants at places such as shops, car washes and nail bars.

Other major pull factors are having family members already in the UK and being able to speak the English language.

Migrants also know they cannot be sent back to France or another safe country. Since Brexit, the Dublin ­regulation, which allowed the UK to return a migrant to their first country of entry into the EU, no longer applies.

Have the number of migrants coming to the UK increased?

The number of people trying to reach England on boats from France so far this year is now more than three times that in the whole of 2020.

However, overall migration to the UK is actually down 4% since last year, and less than 40% of what it was in 2002, when numbers peaked.

The deaths on Wednesday were the worst in a single day on record


Tim Merry)

The UK is 14th in Europe on the number of asylum seekers per capita.

In 2021 Germany received the highest number of asylum applications, followed by France and Spain.

Where do they come from?

In the 17 months to May this year, 70% of the 12,000 people arriving in small boats came from five countries: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam, according to data obtained by the Refugee Council.

Many face perilous journeys over land or sea for long periods before reaching Calais.

Some have paid as much as £10,000 to people smugglers.

Often hidden in the back of trucks to the border with Europe, they tend to be kept in “safe houses” in Bulgaria before being put on to other trucks that are bound for Western Europe.

A migrant child smiles after touching down on UK shores



Why do they want to risk their lives?

Debbie Busler, head of refugee support at the British Red Cross, says there are many “painful reasons” why people leave their countries.

Many are fleeing conflict or escaping political, religious or sexuality-based persecution. She says: “Many people are so desperate to leave their country and get to safety they are prepared to risk their lives. Risking their life is better than what they are escaping from.”

How many die?

Before yesterday 82 asylum seekers are believed to have died in Europe this year, according to the Missing Migrants Project. Another 1,644 died attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Northern Africa.

Most deaths were from drowning.

Migrants’ footprints at Wimereux, north France



Why isn’t the money we are giving the French solving the crisis?

Despite two multi-million pound deals with France to pay for more surveillance of the French coast, authorities there have still struggled to monitor the 93-mile stretch of coastline, especially as the number of crossings has increased.

More than 18,000 attempted crossings have been stopped since last November, but almost 24,500 evaded detection.

France’s strict data protection and privacy laws also means that aerial surveillance equipment provided by the UK has not been used.

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Where are the safe and legal routes to the UK?

For almost all people fleeing desperate circumstances, there is no other way of applying for asylum in the UK.

In most cases, the Home Office expects people to physically reach the UK before an asylum application can be lodged, meaning many feel the only way is to risk a dangerous journey to get here.

What happens once they arrive?

According to the Home Office, 98% of people coming across the Channel in small boats apply for asylum.

Nearly two-thirds of those are deemed to be genuine refugees and allowed to remain in the United Kingdom. Once an asylum application is under way, help with housing and money to live on is provided while the claim is processed.

This means the individual has no means to support themselves.

Asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work while an application is considered, unless they have waited more than a year for a decision and can fill a role in a limited number of skilled occupations where there is a shortage.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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