Can the government stop the boats?
Speaking in Dover today, the Prime Minister gave an update on his pledge to stop small boats crossing the English Channel. Illegal crossings, he said, are down 20 per cent while illegal migration into Europe has risen by 30 per cent. French authorities have also intercepted an additional 40 per cent of small boats and crossings by Albanians have plummeted.
Is the Prime Minister correct that the plan to stop the boats is working?
On Albanians alone, the answer is, quite unambiguously, yes. In the first five months of the year, only 150 Albanians entered the UK via an illegal small boat crossing. That is a 98 per cent decrease from the peak in the second quarter last year and the lowest since early 2021. It may be expected that more Albanians would be being detected via other routes, but in fact the number detected at UK ports (i.e. stowaways) was also at its lowest level since at least the first quarter of 2018.
Of course, Albanians only very briefly made up a significant proportion of those making the crossings.
Given the rough seas in winter, early in the year it is hard to predict whether any drop in crossings indicates a prolonged reduction or not. From January to April, this held true. Like in previous years, crossings happened less often than not in the early season but when conditions allowed significant numbers made the crossings. Such as 312 people on the 22nd of January, 492 on the 5th of April and 497 on the 22nd of April (see for yourself on the Channel Crossing Tracker).
In fact, up until May Channel crossings were running only slightly below the previous year’s equivalent at 89 per cent. Yet since have fallen notably from 2,884 in May 2022 to 1,664 in 2023 (42 per cent lower). For June it is too soon to say, but so far there have been no crossings.
How do we explain such a notable decline, given the Home Office predicted total crossings this year of up to 85,000?
An important disclaimer first of all is that we have not yet reached peak crossing season, which in previous years has always been July to September with continued high flows in October and November. In August 2022, for instance, there were more crossings (8,641) than all of 2023 so far (7,610). However, as around half of those were made by Albanians, that is a record that will not easily be broken this year.
Secondly, small boats are not the only way into the UK with lorry stowaways being more popular in the past. Years of increased investment in enhanced security at Calais and other ports, however, have made this route much more difficult. It is partly because of this that small boat crossings became popular.
According to EU border agency Frontex, there has been a 15 per cent decline in total illegal border crossings towards the UK compared with the first quarter of 2022. One can reasonably assume that reductions in small boat crossings are not necessarily leading to higher numbers of people stowing away.
All this considered, it does seem that the reduction so far this year is genuine. The massive fall in Albanians making the crossings may be enough alone to see numbers fall by the year’s end. Migration Watch has always argued that sending a clear message that entering the UK illegally will result in denial of entry followed by a swift removal would act as a strong deterrent. Now that Albanians have a high chance of that quick return and a lower chance of a successful asylum claim, the expensive trip is simply not worth it.
Will other nationalities, such as Afghans and Sudanese, still attempt crossings en masse later this year? Without a doubt. Until the first flight takes off for Rwanda, there is little other than cost, French patrols and a few waves to stop them. The added deterrent effect that being sent to the heart of Africa provides is a crucial element in dramatically reducing crossings once and for all.
It is important not to let encouraging signs so far this year lead to complacency. The Prime Minister’s plan to stop illegal immigration appears to be working, but we remain a long way from securing our borders. The government has to keep up the momentum of detaining illegals and returning them to their country of origin or another safe country such as Rwanda. Any sign that the pressure is being eased and we’ll be back at square one before you know it.