How many people cross the Channel in small boats?

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Migrants being brought to DoverImage source, PA Media

A new record has been set for the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in a single day.

Almost 1,300 made the crossing on 22 August, in 27 small boats.

Critics say this proves people seeking asylum in the UK are not being deterred by the government's plan to send some of them to Rwanda.

How many migrants cross the Channel?

As at 22 August, 22,557 migrants had made the crossing in small boats since the start of the year.

In April, the government announced plans to send some of those who come to the UK this way to Rwanda, to try and stem the numbers.

However, as at 22 August, more than 15,500 people had crossed the Channel since the policy was launched.

The total number of migrants crossing the Channel in 2022 is likely to reach 60,000, according to Border Force union officials.

In 2021, 28,526 people are known to have crossed. In 2020, it was 8,404.

Who are the migrants and where are they from?

In 2021, 75% of all small boat arrivals were men aged 18 to 39, according to the Home Office.

About 5% of arrivals were men aged over 40, 7% were women over 18, and 12% were children under 18 (of whom three-quarters were male).

Iranians made up 30% of small boat arrivals last year, while 21% were Iraqis, 11% Eritreans and 9% Syrians, says the Home Office.

Previously, Iranians made up the vast majority of arrivals - 80% in 2018, and 66% in 2019.

How many arrests for people smuggling are there?

In England and Wales, government statistics show there were 41 convictions for helping migrants enter the UK between 2017 and 2020, compared to 137 prosecutions in the same period.

More than 50 suspected criminal gang members were arrested in 2020, in relation to small boat crossings, according to Home Office figures.

What is the government doing to tackle the problem?

The government wants to send to Rwanda those who arrive in the UK through "illegal, dangerous or unnecessary methods", such as on small boats or hidden in lorries, when they could have claimed asylum in another safe country such as France.

It has also announced a new asylum reception centre in Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The first flight due to take refugees from the UK to Rwanda was cancelled at the eleventh-hour in June

The Royal Navy has taken charge of responding to small boats in the Channel alongside the Border Force. There will be an extra £50m funding for this.

In April 2022, the government confirmed it had dropped its plans to "push back" people crossing the English Channel, a week before they were due to be challenged in court.

It had wanted small boats attempting to cross the English Channel to be forced back into French waters. France argued this would break maritime law, and the UK military said it would not use the tactics.

The UK has also been paying French authorities to stop boats leaving in the first place, including £54m promised in 2021-22.

What have critics said about the government's approach?

Charities and lawyers representing asylum seekers launched a series of legal challenges against the Rwanda policy.

A Home Affairs Committee report questioned its effectiveness as a deterrent. It called on the government instead to improve co-operation with French authorities.

A review by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration said that Border Force action to combat small boat crossings has been "ineffective" and "counter-productive". It also found that Border Force boats were poorly equipped for search and rescue operations.

In response, the Home Office said it had improved the way it handles small boat arrivals.

The High Court in London heard that an unnamed official at the Foreign Office warned that Rwanda's government carries out torture and even killings.

The Supreme Court is holding a judicial review into the policy in September. If the policy is found to be unlawful, any asylum seeker sent to Rwanda could be returned.

Home Secretary Priti Patel previously said that she expected to encounter barriers to the Rwanda plan. She insists the government has confidence that the policy offers the "best chance" of deterring illegal immigration, but says that it will take time to have an effect.