LONDON (AP) — At least 28,300 people packed into small boats crossed the Channel from France to England’s south coast in 2021, an annual record that was three times the number of crossings a year earlier.
The leap in numbers, reported Tuesday by the Press Association news agency based on data from Britain’s Home Office, reflects the soaring number of migrants seeking to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane often in flimsy boats provided by people smugglers.
The risks were tragically underscored on Nov. 24, when at least 27 migrants drowned as their boat sank after leaving France. The crossings have become a source of tension between France and Britain.
As winter approached last year, November was the busiest month for crossings of the Channel, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) wide at its narrowest point, with 6,869 people reaching the U.K. On Nov. 11 alone, 1,185 people made the risky crossing in 33 boats.
The figures also show that the boats are getting larger, with an average of 28 people on board each vessel that arrived in the UK, up from just over 13 a year earlier.
Activists are calling for the British government to offer more opportunities to asylum-seekers in a bid to decrease the number of Channel crossings.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said that the U.K. government’s policy will lead to more deaths in the Dover Strait.
“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,” Naor Hilton said.
Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais which supports refugees living in northern France, agreed.
“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,” she said.
But Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said that “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 that planned government reforms to immigration law will criminalize entering the U.K. without permission and introduce life prison terms for people smugglers as well as strengthening powers of the country’s Border Force to stop and redirect boats and clearing the way for asylum-seekers to have their claims processed outside the U.K.
When the reforms were introduced to Parliament in July, Naor Hilton said they were “built on a deep lack of understanding of the reality of refugee migration.”
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