English Channel migrant crossings (2018–present)

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A migrant crisis involving illegal migrants entering the United Kingdom by crossing the English Channel in small boats began in November 2018. The migrants arrived in small craft and while some slip into the UK unnoticed, others are apprehended on British beaches, or rescued when the craft they are riding in founder off shore. The British government blames criminal gangs for arranging the crossings.


Anti-immigration politicians attached the label "crisis" to the sudden increase in seaborne crossings.[1]

Journalist and former Scottish Labour Party MP Tom Harris argues that the small boat crossings that are occurring are not a "crisis."[2] Columnist Stephen Daisley argues that, "actually, it is a bit of a crisis. Not a big one. A mini crisis," because "A nation that does not control its borders is no nation at all."[3]

Home Secretary Sajid Javid prefers to describe the increase in crossings as a "major incident."[4][5]


Illegal seaborne crossings aboard small boats by would-be migrants were rare before November 2018.[1][6] More commonly, illegal migrants stowed away aboard trains, trucks or ferryboats, a technique that has become more difficult in recent years as British authorities have intensified searches of such vehicles.[1][7] Prices charged by smugglers for illegal rides across the Channel in lorries, trains and ferries have risen sharply.[7] Rumours that entering and claiming asylum in the UK will become more difficult once Brexit goes into effect circulated in migrant encampments in France, possibly fomented by people smugglers hoping to drum up business.[8][1][7]



539 migrants are documented to have "tried to reach Britain on small boats" in 2018; many, however, were intercepted and returned to France.[9] 434 migrants are known to have made the crossing in small boats in October, November and December of 2018,[10] 100 in November of 2018,[8] 230 in December.[10][11]

227 migrants were intercepted and returned to the continent by French authorities in 2018, "at least" 95 migrants in December alone.[4][10]

By way of comparison, 26,547 asylum claims were filed in the U.K. in 2017.[10]

Countries of origin[edit]

The migrants making the small boat crossings are coming disproportionately from Iran.[7][12][13]

Criminal smuggling gangs[edit]

Crossings are usually arranged by smugglers who charge between £3,000 and £6,000 for a crossing attempt in a small boat.[8][12] The Smugglers often use stolen boats for the crossings.[12][14][15][16]

On 2 January 2019 the National Crime Agency announced the arrest of a 33-year-old Iranian and a 24-year-old Briton in Manchester on suspicion of arranging the "illegal movement of migrants" across the English Channel.[17]

Government response[edit]

Home Secretary Sajid Javid cut short a family holiday to deal with the small boat crossings.[4][5][18] On 31 December Javid reversed a previous refusal to station additional Border Force cutters in the Channel to intercept migrant smallcraft on the grounds that the cutters would become a "magnet" for migrants to attempt the crossing in the hope that their boats would be intercepted and enabled to apply for asylum. In agreeing to send more patrol boats, Javid promised to do "everything we can" to make sure that small boat migration "is not a success", including returning would-be migrants to France.[18] Cutters are en route form Gibraltar and the Mediterranean to carry out the channel mission.[18]

Javid has stated that migrants crossing the Channel from France are not "genuine" asylum seekers, since they are already residing in a safe country.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Pérez-Peña, Pérez-Peña (31 December 2018). "As Migrants Cross English Channel, Numbers Are Small but Worry Is Big". New York Times. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  2. ^ Harris, Tom (1 January 2019). "Why should Britain offer asylum to people who would rather not make their home in France?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  3. ^ Daisley, Stephen (31 December 2018). "Now is not the time to change tack on migration". The Spectator. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "Channel migrants: Minister defends handling of 'crisis'". BBC. 29 December 2018. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Channel migrants: Home secretary declares major incident". BBC. 28 December 2018. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  6. ^ Bell, Melissa; Vandoorne, Saskya (6 December 2018). "Migrants risk death at sea to reach Britain as prices spike on traditional routes". CNN. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Picheta, Rob (2 January 2019). "'Deeply concerning': Why the rise in migrants crossing the English Channel?". CNN. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Campbell, Colin (27 November 2018). "Migrants 'rush to cross Channel by boat before Brexit'". BBC. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  9. ^ "Migrants Attempt Dangerous Trip Across the Channel". CNN. 2 January 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d Heffer, Greg (2 January 2019). "Channel migrants: What are the numbers behind the 'major incident'?". Sky News. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  11. ^ Topping, Alexandra (30 December 2018). "UK migrant 'crisis' bears no comparison to EU's 2015 influx". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  12. ^ a b c Henley, John (31 December 2018). "'This is the only way now': desperate Iranians attempt Channel crossing". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  13. ^ "Channel migrants: Why are people crossing the English Channel?". BBC. 2 January 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  14. ^ "French police nab 14 migrants at Channel port harbour". France24. 1 January 2019. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  15. ^ "Migrants reach UK in stolen French fishing boat". AlJazeera. 13 November 2018. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  16. ^ Googan, Cara (16 November 2018). "Migrants pile into dinghies to cross Channel to Dover as 'panic setting in' before Brexit deadline hits". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  17. ^ "Two held over English Channel migrant crossings". BBC. 3 January 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  18. ^ a b c Johnson, Jamie; Hymas, Charles (31 December 2018). "Sajid Javid backs down over migrants as two more boats redeployed to the Channel". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  19. ^ Swinford, Steven (2 January 2019). "Migrants crossing English Channel are not 'genuine' asylum seekers, Sajid Javid suggests". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 January 2019.