How many people cross the Channel in small boats and how many claim asylum in the UK?


Migrants in a dinghy sail in the Channel toward the south coast of EnglandImage source, Getty Images

A record 175,000 people – up 44% since June 2022 – are waiting in the UK for a decision on an asylum claim.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says that cutting the backlog and “stopping the boats” coming to the UK are key priorities.

How many people cross the Channel in small boats?

Small boat arrivals accounted for about 45% of asylum applications made in the UK in 2022.

In total, 45,755 migrants crossed the Channel that year, the highest number since figures began to be collected in 2018.

Since then, more than 100,000 have made the crossing.

How do UK small boats arrivals compare with the EU’s?

That is an increase of 13% on the same period last year and the highest January to July total since 2016.

Most arrive across the Mediterranean, with Italy receiving the highest number.

The number of EU migrants peaked in 2015, when more than a million people arrived – the majority fleeing the Syria conflict.

How many people seek asylum in the UK?

More than 36,000 people claimed asylum in the first half of 2023. In the whole of 2022, more than 89,000 people requested asylum.

The number of annual applications – including dependants – peaked at about 103,000 in 2002, as people fled conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.

Claims then fell sharply, dropping to a 20-year low of 22,600 in 2010.

Where do asylum seekers come from?

In the first half of 2023, the highest number of asylum seekers came from Afghanistan (3,366).

The next largest group, with just over 3,200 applications, came from Iran, followed by India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Ukrainian refugees who came to the UK after Russia’s invasion of their country are not included in the figures.

How many asylum cases are waiting to be processed?

Some people wait months or even years for their claims to be considered.

As of June 2023, the majority (80%) of people in the backlog have been waiting more than six months for an initial decision on their claim.

People are not allowed to work while their claim is being processed, but they can apply for permission to do jobs on the UK shortage occupation list, after 12 months.

Many asylum seekers are housed in hotels, at an estimated cost of £6m a day.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,

The Home Office said all 39 migrants on board the Bibby Stockholm were disembarked as a precaution

How many people does the UK send back?

The Home Office can remove people with no legal right to stay in the UK.

In the year to March 2023 – the latest data available – the UK returned a total of 3,354 people who had previously claimed asylum in the UK.

This represents an increase of 68% to the year before, partly because of a sharp rise in returns of people from Albania (from 573 to 1,272).

Enforced returns mainly related to foreign national offenders, and almost half (46%) were EU nationals.

Albanians and Romanians accounted for 25% and 18% respectively of all enforced returns.

How many people apply for asylum in France and other countries?

In 2022, the UK had the fifth highest number of asylum applications in Europe, behind Germany, France, Spain and Austria.

France had the second highest number (137,510) followed by Spain (116,135) and Austria (106,380).

In 2022, the UK authorities made initial decisions on 18,699 asylum applications and granted d 14,211 of them (76%).

Germany made 197,540 asylum decisions, and granted more than 50% of them.

France – a country with a similar-sized population to the UK – made 129,735 decisions, and also granted more than 50%.

What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a migrant?

An asylum seeker is someone who has applied for protection in another country because they are fleeing persecution – or the fear of persecution.

If they are successful, they are granted leave to remain in the country where they sought refuge. If their application is refused, they can be removed.

A migrant refers to someone who has left their country of origin and has not claimed asylum. Some migrants leave their countries for work or study.

An illegal migrant is someone who entered the UK illegally (ie without a visa or prior permission) or someone who entered legally but remained in the country after their visa expired.

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