In Depth

How many migrants have crossed the Channel in 2019?

Iraqi man found dead off Belgian coast after ‘trying to swim to the UK’

wd-migrant_boat.jpg

An Iraqi man has died after attempting to reach the UK by swimming across the English Channel.

Belgian police say the man was identified by his fingerprints after his body was discovered on Friday near a wind farm off the coast of Zeebrugge.

Carl Decaluwe, the governor of the West Flanders region, told the BBC: “We think he was going to try to swim to the UK. I think he was starting in France.”

Decaluwe added that the man was found “wearing an improvised buoyancy aid made of plastic water bottles and wearing one flipper”. 

The man is the latest confirmed casualty among the scores of migrants who have attempted to cross the Channel to the UK. The number reportedly passed the 1,000 mark last week, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to warn those thinking of crossing that they will be sent back to France.

During a visit to Devon on 23 August, the Prime Minister said: “The UK should not be regarded as a place where you could automatically come and break the law by seeking to arrive illegally,” reports ITV News.

The crossing is “very hazardous”, said Johnson, and he warned migrants not to attempt it. “We will send you back. If you come illegally, you are an illegal migrant and I’m afraid the law will treat you as such.”

But what are the real numbers and why has there been a surge of migrants this year?

How many migrants have crossed in the Channel in 2019?

Last December the then home secretary, Sajid Javid, declared a “major incident” after an increase in the number of people attempting the perilous cross-Channel journey.

This month, The Daily Telegraph reported that 267 migrants had arrived in the UK across the Channel so far in August, in what has been described as a “summer of chaos”.

This figure reportedly brings the total number of migrant crossings for 2019 to 1,027, almost double the amount for the whole of 2018, when 539 people attempted to travel to the UK on small boats, mostly in the final three months of the year.

Of those 539, some 227 (42%) were intercepted by French authorities before they made it to the UK.

Why do migrants try to cross the Channel?

According to The Guardian last December, there are “a few factors at play” in the surge in attempted crossings.

The paper noted that charities believe the increase in arrivals is “due to intolerable conditions” at refugee camps in northern France, where many migrants are being held.

There were between 1,000 and 2,000 people in camps in Calais and Grande-Synthe. Josh Hallam, a field manager for Help Refugees who works in northern France, said: “In Grande-Synthe it’s mostly Kurdish people from Iraq and Iran and smaller groups from Pakistan and Sudan. In Calais, it’s mostly Iraqi Kurds, Iranians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Afghans and Sudanese.”

Caroline Gregory, who works with Calais Action, said people were crossing into the UK instead of staying in France because they were “keen to reunite with family members and loved ones, already spoke English or felt they would be safer and more likely to succeed in the UK”.

The Guardian also suggests that there is a “growing sense of ‘now or never’ as Brexit and future immigration restrictions loom” for the UK.

How many have died?

Despite the surge in crossing attempts and the risks of the open sea, the number of recorded deaths while crossing the Channel is surprisingly low.

So far in 2019 it appears that only two deaths have been confirmed - the Iraqi man found last week and a woman reported to have fallen from a dinghy heading towards the Kent coast earlier in the month. 

Despite this, Gregory told the Guardian that the true figure was likely to be far higher, saying the journey is an “incredibly dangerous” one which “many migrants have died undertaking”.

Carl Decaluwe also expressed some scepticism over the official figures, telling the BBC: “I am convinced a lot of people died already, but they never find the bodies.”

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