The number of people illegally crossing the English Channel more than trebled in 2021 to reach a record high of more than 28,000.
At least 28,395 migrants reached the English coast in small boats in 2021, according to a tally by the PA news agency.
That is a significant increase on the previous year, when more than 8,400 successfully made the perilous journey.
In November 2021 alone, nearly 6,900 people — including a record 1,185 on a single day — crossed despite the danger of heavy maritime traffic, strong currents and low water temperatures.
The figures also show that the boats are getting larger, with an average of 28 people on board each vessel that arrived in the UK, up from just over 13 a year earlier.
Some migrants have paid with their lives. In that same month, 27 people died after their boat sank, triggering a diplomatic spat between the UK and France.
The issue has been a political headache for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and home affairs minister Priti Patel, who have made tackling immigration their top priority in the wake of Brexit.
It has also poisoned relations between London and Paris with the UK accusing France of not doing enough to prevent the crossings despite a €63 million deal to bolster patrols and technology along France’s northern coastline.
Paris refutes the accusations and cancelled talks with London in late November when Johnson called on France to take back migrants who have made the crossings.
The British government has also put forward a controversial bull, which plans for tougher measures against smugglers but also against migrants who arrived illegally into the country. If adopted, people who arrived into the country illegally via a “safe country”, will be returned to it.
The government argues it will create “a fair but firm immigration system”, “protect the most vulnerable and crackdown on illegal immigration and the criminal gangs that facilitate it”.
But activists are calling for the British government to offer more opportunities to asylum-seekers in a bid to decrease the number of Channel crossings.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive at Refugee Action, said that the UK government’s policy will lead to more deaths in the Dover Strait.
“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,” Naor Hilton said.
Clare Moseley, the founder of charity Care4Calais which supports refugees living in northern France, agreed.
“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.