Record numbers of people continue to make the perilous journey across the English Channel in small boats, with nearly 6,000 reaching the UK in the first six months of 2021.
Men, women and children continue to risk the high dangers involved in crossing the 21-mile Dover Strait in rubber dinghies, despite Home Secretary Priti Patel’s vows to make the route “unviable”.
The total figure for 2020 could be eclipsed within two months if the number of crossings seen in July and August last year are repeated, the PA news agency can reveal.
Charities have criticised the Government over the figures, accusing it of creating a “people smuggler’s dream” in its quest to build “Fortress Britain”.
The Home Office says the crossings are “completely unacceptable” and said it has “redoubled” efforts with French authorities as summer arrives.
It comes amid reports that Ms Patel is considering introducing controversial legislation to enable the Government to send asylum seekers abroad for processing.
Increasing numbers of people making the trip from France aboard small boats come despite the fact that the busy shipping lane has claimed several lives.
In October, a Kurdish-Iranian family including small children died when their migrant boat sank off the French coast.
PA, which has tracked and analysed migrant crossings for the last 18 months, can report that more than 5,900 people have succeeded in reaching the UK aboard small boats so far in 2021.
A total of 8,417 made the journey in the whole of 2020, a figure that was quadruple the number for 2019.
June 2021 saw nearly 2,200 people picked up after crossing the English Channel, a new record surpassing the 1,951 from September 2020.
The number for June 2021 was more than three times the number for June 2020, a trend that if repeated in July would see the total for the whole of 2020 eclipsed by the end of this month.
Home Secretary Ms Patel famously pledged that crossings would be an “infrequent phenomenon” by spring 2020.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “These crossings are completely unacceptable and we have redoubled efforts with French authorities by increasing beach patrols, intelligence sharing and investment in surveillance as we enter the summer months.
“As a result we have now seen over 5,000 people prevented by the French from making the dangerous crossing so far this year.
“As organised criminal gangs adapt their approach, so will we. But to truly close this lethal route we must fix the broken system through our New Plan for Immigration, which will be firm on those who abuse the system and fair on those in genuine need of protection.”
Despite the sharp rise in people arriving in small boats, asylum applications in the UK fell in 2020 to 29,456.
If ministers want to smash the criminal gangs, they must create more routes to safetyTim Naor Hilton, Refugee Action
This was significantly lower than the 93,475 asylum applications made in France and the 121,955 made in Germany.
Responding to PA’s crossings figures, Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “The Government’s obsession with trying to build Fortress Britain has created a people smuggler’s dream.
“And their planned refugee Bill looks set to be an unworkable, unlawful and expensive disaster that will do nothing to stop refugees risking their lives on the Channel.
“If ministers want to smash the criminal gangs, they must create more routes to safety, including family reunion schemes, humanitarian visas, and a long-term resettlement programme that welcomes 10,000 refugees a year.”
Bella Sankey, director of charity Detention Action, said Ms Patel’s pledge to make Channel crossings unviable now “lies in ruin”.
She added: “If she was sincere about ending the chaos she would create a humanitarian visa granting safe passage to the tiny proportion of refugees who arrive at the British border through France.
“Everything else is fantasy, delusion and denial.”