Three quarters of Channel crossers eligible for refugee status, official figures show

Just 660 of the 19,441 people who crossed the Channel this year and declared their nationality could be transferred to their home country

Migrants rescued from a boat crossing the English Channel arrive at Dungeness Beach in Kent. EPA
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Analysis of latest government figures suggest three quarters of people who have crossed the Channel on small boats this year would be recognised as refugees if their applications had been processed.

Once the Illegal Migration Act is fully enforced, as few as 3.5 per cent of people arriving would be returned to their home countries every year, while thousands of remaining asylum seekers would be left in limbo and could “disappear” into destitution on the margins of society, the study by the Refugee Council also found.

Hailed by the government as key to deterring small boat crossings, the Act became law on July 20.

But there is currently no timeline for the implementation of the legislation’s main elements, including the duty to remove people deemed to have arrived in Britain illegally and block them from making asylum claims.

In a challenge to ministers’ claims that a majority of people crossing the Channel are not in genuine need of protection, the report found a large majority of arrivals would be granted asylum in normal circumstances.

When the government’s breakdown of the nationality of those arriving on small boats up to September this year is assessed alongside current rates of asylum approval for people from individual countries, this suggests 74 per cent of those who have crossed the Channel this year – or 14,648 people – would be granted asylum if their applications were processed.

When this is applied to citizens of individual nations, 100 per cent of Eritreans, 99 per cent of Syrians and 97 per cent of Afghans would have had their applications approved.

Overall, more than half of the arrivals this year came from countries with high rates of asylum approval.

100,000 cross Channel in five years – in pictures

The analysis also shows that the 20 per cent reduction in the number of Channel crossings so far this year has been driven by the reduction in Albanians arriving since the British government secured a return agreement with the country.

The number of Albanians arriving on small boats fell from 35 per cent between January and August 2022 to 3 per cent over the same period this year.

However, there was a 19 per cent rise in people from other countries crossing the Channel in the first eight months of 2023, an increase from 16,275 last year to 19,441.

Third country

This includes an almost five-fold increase in the number of people arriving from India in 2023, while arrivals from Turkey and Vietnam have more than tripled.

The Refugee Council said its analysis shows the “human and financial costs” of the Illegal Migration Act when it is implemented in full.

Under the Act, if someone has claimed asylum they can only be removed to their country of origin if they are from one of the 27 member states of the EU or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Albania. Removals of other nationals must be made to a safe third country.

Only 660 of the 19,441 people who crossed the Channel this year and declared their nationality could be transferred to their home country. These arrivals all came from Albania.

The Refugee Council estimates that if the profile of nationalities arriving on small boats remains similar when the Illegal Migration Act is fully enforced, only 3.5 per cent of arrivals each year would be able to be removed from Britain to their country of origin.

In the absence of functioning safe third country agreements and with the Rwanda scheme still the focus of a legal action, the remaining arrivals – estimated to be up to 35,409 a year – would be “stuck in permanent limbo, unable to get on with their lives”.

Even with a third country agreement involving 10,000 arrivals a year being transferred from the UK, tens of thousands of people from countries with current high rates of asylum approval would fall foul of the “shutting down asylum decision making” caused by the new legislation, the report said.

“Organisations working with people in the asylum system and local authorities have told the Refugee Council they are seriously concerned about this and the impact it will have on very vulnerable people,” it added.

Enver Solomon, chief operating officer of the Refugee Council, said Britain should not slam the door in the faces of those who have faced atrocities such as torture, sexual coercion, slavery and exploitation.

“Closing down the asylum system will simply result in vast cost, chaos and human misery with tens of thousands of people stuck in permanent limbo, likely to disappear into the margins of our communities, at risk of destitution, exploitation and abuse,” he added.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

Stop people smuggling

Ambassadors and high commissioners have been instructed to do “even more” to help tackle the “abhorrent trafficking” of human lives across the English Channel, the Foreign Secretary has said.

James Cleverly told party members at the Tory conference in Manchester he personally wrote to senior diplomats and instructed “each and every one of them” to step up to the plate to stop people smuggling.

Speaking from the main stage of the Manchester Central Convention Complex, the Foreign Secretary said when it comes to stopping the boats, ministers will have to continue to co-operate “not just across government, but with our international allies as well”.

“We have collaborated closely with the governments of the countries where these inhumane people-smuggling gangs are based," he added.

“But I recognise that we need to keep going and so, today, I’ve written to all of our ambassadors, all of our high commissioners, and I’ve instructed each and every one of them to do even more work with the countries in which they represent the UK to help stop the abhorrent trafficking of human lives across the English Channel.”

Updated: October 02, 2023, 7:03 AM