The English Channel migrant crisis by numbers

Latest tragedy a desperate but almost inevitable consequence of increasing numbers of illegal crossings made in unsuitable vessels

Tragedy struck the English Channel on Wednesday as at least 27 migrants drowned in a doomed attempt to reach the UK.

It was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since the International Organisation for Migration began tracking the data in 2014.

The dead included 17 men, seven women and three young people, French authorities said.

Fourteen migrants had drowned making the crossing this year, so Wednesday's known fatalities were nearly double this figure.

To put the strain on the route into perspective, 671 migrants were stopped from crossing the Dover Strait by French authorities on Wednesday alone, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

UK Home Office figures suggest a record 25,000-plus migrants have attempted the crossing this year, although French authorities believe the figure to be nearer 31,000, with 7,800 rescued at sea.

There is a difference between attempted and successful crossings and the 669 migrants who successfully crossed the Channel on Sunday took the total who have arrived in small boats to 17,085 for the year to date, UK Home Office data shows. This is more than double the 8,417 who successfully made the crossing in the entirety of 2020.

Although figures are not readily available on the number of unaccompanied child migrants who have successfully crossed, it is believed that more than 100 are living in hotels due to a shortage of places in children's homes.

The monthly number of crossings in 2021 rose steadily until September, when it reached 4,653. The trend bucked in October when only 2,669 made the journey, but to date the figure for November has reached a hefty 6,665, Migration Watch UK said.

It is thus perhaps unsurprising the daily record for the number of illegal Channel crossings has been broken twice this month. On November 3, a total of 853 people made the crossing but this was eclipsed by the 1,885 people who crossed on November 12 – the first time the number had exceeded 1,000 for a day.

The illegal journeys across the Channel are made in small vessels, from boats to dinghies and kayaks, frequently packed with far more migrants than is safe. In such perilous conditions, the only surprise is that tragedies like Wednesday's are relatively infrequent.

"Allowing our borders to be uncontrolled and unsecured means those being exploited by people smugglers are put in danger and public safety in the UK is undermined," said Dr Benedict Greening, executive director of Migration Watch UK.

"This has all been completely avoidable. We have warned about this danger repeatedly for months."

While the Channel crossings have become a cause celebre, the attention they have drawn does not convey the full picture.

The number of small boats traversing the Dover Strait may be rising, but in 2020 overall asylum applications in the UK actually fell to 29,456.

Compared with a peer like France, which received 93,475 applications in the same year, this number is relatively small.

Updated: November 25, 2021, 3:36 PM