U.K. says Channel crossings on small boats hit a record this winter

British officials processed 5,373 migrants landing on the shores of southeast England in the first three months of the year after crossing the Channel in small vessels

Published - April 02, 2024 02:35 am IST - London

An inflatable dinghy carrying around 65 migrants crosses the English Channel on March 6, 2024 in Dover, England.

An inflatable dinghy carrying around 65 migrants crosses the English Channel on March 6, 2024 in Dover, England. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Channel arrivals on small boats to the U.K. hit a record in the first quarter of 2024 with a nearly 42% rise over last year, the interior ministry said on April 1.

British officials processed 5,373 migrants landing on the shores of southeast England in the first three months of the year after crossing the Channel in small vessels, it said.

This compares to 3,793 making the perilous journey from January to March in 2023 — a 41.7% rise and the highest figure ever for the opening quarter of any year.

Nearly 800 arrived on 16 small boats over just the Easter weekend.

This is a serious political problem for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a general election year, after the embattled Conservative leader repeatedly vowed to "stop the boats".

He claimed to be succeeding when the annual total fell by around a third last year, but the trend has reversed dramatically so far in 2024.

Mr. Sunak is facing a daunting task keeping his Tories — in power since 2010 — in charge after the next election, which he must call at some point this year.

After nearly two years lagging well behind the main Labour opposition, two weekend surveys showed a further deterioration in support for the Conservatives.

One study, involving more than 18,000 voters in multiple polls over recent weeks, forecasts the party will suffer its worst election defeat in history, reduced to just 80 MPs while Labour wins a record 470.

The small boat arrivals, and broader concerns among some voters about levels of immigration, are blamed for contributing to the predicted exodus of former Tory voters.

The interior ministry has said that smugglers organising the Channel crossings are adapting their methods, using bigger boats and packing more people.

Interior Minister James Cleverly told the BBC this week that the government is now "going after the boats upstream in the supply chain".

Mr. Sunak is also pushing ahead with controversial proposals to deter the cross-Channel journeys by trying to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The U.K. Supreme Court blocked the plan over safety fears but the government has introduced contentious legislation to override that by declaring Rwanda "safe" and agreeing a new treaty with the east African country.

Flights could take off within months if lawmakers approve the draft law in the coming weeks.

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