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Record of Channel crossings by migrants in 2021

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At least 28,395 migrants reached the English coasts aboard small boats, more than triple the previous year, the British news agency PA said on the basis of figures obtained from the British Home Office.

The phenomenon has developed strongly since 2018 in the face of the closure of the port of Calais and Eurotunnel, which migrants used while hiding in vehicles.

In the month of November 2021 alone, nearly 6,900 people made the crossing despite the danger linked to the density of traffic, strong currents and low water temperature, including a record 1,185 people in a single day.

Some migrants paid for it with their lives, like at the end of November, when the sinking of a precarious boat – the deadliest in this busy seaway – left 27 dead, sparking a great wave of emotion in the public.

Personal belongings of migrants and a deflated rubber dinghy on a beach.

Personal effects of migrants and a deflated rubber dinghy, a life jacket and engines on the beach at Wimereux in Calais the day after the deadly shipwreck.

Photo: Getty Images / Kiran Ridley

The illegal Channel crossings have become a real political headache for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Home Secretary Priti Patel, as the Conservative leader has made the fight against immigration his hobbyhorse, in the wake of Brexit.

Tensions between London and Paris

These crossings are also a subject of regular tension between Paris and London, the British authorities considering insufficient, despite the payment of financial aid, the efforts undertaken on the French side to prevent migrants from boarding.

The French, who refute these accusations, retort that London is reluctant to actually untie the purse strings.

The climate between the two capitals was further tense after the murderous shipwreck in November, Paris seeing a very negative view of a proposal from Boris Johnson asking the French to take back migrants who crossed the Channel illegally.

French policemen on a beach in Calais.

French police patrol Wimereux beach in Calais.

Photo: Getty Images / Kiran Ridley

According to the newspaper The TimeOn Monday, the British have little hope of reaching a deal with France before the French presidential election in April.

In the meantime, the British government wants to make impractical these crossings, for which smugglers increasingly resort to larger capacity boats, of several dozen people.

More severe measures

A controversial bill, which promises tougher measures against smugglers, but also against illegally arrived migrants, is currently being examined in Parliament.

If adopted, asylum seekers who have arrived illegally in the country will be returned to the safe countries through which they have previously passed.

Human rights associations are outraged against a text deemed cruel. But for the government, it will create a fair but firm immigration system will protect the most vulnerable and crack down on illegal immigration and the criminal gangs that facilitate it.

People will continue to cross the Channel in precarious boats and traffickers will continue to rake in profits, unless ministers open up more roads for refugees to seek asylum here., commented Tim Naor Hilton, director of the association Refugee Action.

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