Migrants Crossing English Channel in 2021 Reached At Least 28K, Triple Usual Total

At least 28,300 migrants made the journey from France to the U.K. via the English Channel in 2021, three times higher than the 2020 number, new data found.

PA Media—formerly known as the Press Association—released the figures Tuesday based on numbers from the U.K.'s Home Office government department.

The data also showed that the average number of people per migrant boat has more than doubled in the past year, with about 28 people per boat in 2021, up from about 13.

November proved to be the busiest month for English Channel crossings, with 6,869 people making the voyage. On November 11 alone, 1,185 people crossed using 33 boats.

However, the boats are often not structurally sound, and some have not been able to hold up for the whole crossing, which spans about 20 miles at its narrowest point, the Dover Strait. On November 24, 27 people drowned when a migrant boat lost air and sank.

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said the U.K. government needs to change its immigration system to help prevent more tragedies.

"People will continue to cross the Channel in flimsy boats, and smugglers will continue to profit, unless ministers open up more routes for refugees to claim asylum here," he said.

migrants, English Channel, Dungeness
Over 28,000 migrants crossed the English Channel into the U.K. in 2021, triple the 2020 figure. Above, migrant men are aided ashore by members of the R.N.L.I. and Border Force officials after making the journey across the English Channel from France during heavy fog on December 19, 2021, in Dungeness, England. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The arrivals continued Tuesday, with a group of people, mostly men but also a young child in a pink, one-piece suit, rescued by a British lifeboat and brought to Dover on England's south coast.

Clare Moseley, founder of charity Care4Calais which supports refugees living in northern France, agreed with Naor Hilton.

"If the government were serious about stopping people smugglers, it would create a safe way for people to claim asylum and put people smugglers out of business once and for all," she said.

But Home Office minister Tom Pursglove said that "seeking asylum for protection should not involve people asylum shopping country to country, or risking their lives by lining the pockets of criminal gangs to cross the Channel."

He said that planned government reforms to immigration law will criminalize entering the U.K. without permission and introduce life prison terms for people smugglers as well as strengthening powers of the country's Border Force to stop and redirect boats and clearing the way for asylum-seekers to have their claims processed outside the U.K.

When the reforms were introduced to Parliament in July, Naor Hilton said they were "built on a deep lack of understanding of the reality of refugee migration."

The Associated Press contributed to this report