Iranians top list of migrants arriving in UK on small boats

Campaigners say most arrivals are genuine asylum seekers, not economic migrants

A group of migrants are escorted to a processing centre in Dover, Kent, after arriving on small boats last week. The number of arrivals since the start of the year is nearly three times the total recorded for 2020. PA
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One in four migrants who arrive in Britain on small boats come from Iran, new data shows.

Figures released by the UK Home Office showed that about 70 per cent of the 12,195 men, women and children who arrived over a 16-month period were either Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese or Vietnamese.

The numbers obtained by the Refugee Council through a Freedom of Information request showed 98 per cent of people arriving in small boats claim asylum.

The charity said the statistics fly in the face of claims made by Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, who has said that seven in 10 people crossing the English Channel in dinghies are economic migrants rather than genuine asylum seekers.

Last month Ms Patel said the government was concentrating its efforts on “creating safe passage for genuine refugees”.

The Home Secretary is under pressure within the Conservative Party to deter illegal immigration and has been criticised by campaigners for drawing up plans to push back boats attempting to cross into British waters.

Between January 2020 and May 2021, 91 per cent of migrants registered at UK ports came from 10 countries.

Iran topped the list and was followed by Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Yemen and Ethiopia.

The Refugee Council, which offers support to refugees and asylum seekers, said the “majority of people crossing the Channel are likely to be recognised as being in need of protection” at the initial decision stage.

The release of the figures comes as the number of people making the perilous voyage across the sea rocketed in recent days.

On Tuesday at least 500 people were recorded, having arrived on the Kent coast before the UK’s Border Force agency, which is responsible for immigration and customs, or the Royal National Lifeboat Institution were able to intercept them.

Speaking to the Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee in October, Ms Patel said 70 per cent of people who had migrated to the UK illegally over the past year were “single men, who are effectively economic migrants” and “not genuine asylum seekers”.

“They are able to pay the smugglers … these are the ones who are elbowing out the women and children, who are at risk and fleeing persecution,” she said.

But Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said people who risk their safety to reach British soil fear for their lives.

“The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression,” he said.

“This government should show compassion by welcoming those who need refugee protection rather than seeking to cruelly push them back across the Channel or punish them with imprisonment. At the same time there needs to be an ambitious expansion of safe routes so people don’t have to take dangerous journeys to reach safety.”

The charity has called on the government to rethink its Nationality and Borders Bill, which is making its way through Parliament.

If passed, the bill would make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission.

This means that, for the first time, how someone enters the UK – legally or illegally – will have an effect on how their asylum claim progresses and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.

Since the start of the year the migrant tally has surpassed 24,000 – nearly three times the number recorded last year when 8,420 people arrived on UK shores.

Updated: November 17, 2021, 12:45 PM