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Channel crossings top 1,000 for year so far

More than 1,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel.

Home Office figures show more than 300 people made the journey at the weekend, with 112 recorded in two boats on Saturday and 276 on Sunday in five boats.

This takes the provisional total for 2024 to date to 1,057.

POLITICS Migrants
(PA Graphics)

The highest number to cross in a single day so far this year was 358 in eight boats on January 17.

The crossings come as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is braced for another battle in Parliament over his bid to revive the Government’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda, which has been stalled by legal challenges.

In the House of Lords, 71 peers are due to speak at the second reading debate of the proposed Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill on Monday.

Prominent critics include Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has voiced profound concerns about the deportation scheme which will see asylum seekers who cross the Channel put on a one-way flight to the east African country’s capital, Kigali.

The provisional annual total for last year, 29,437, was 36% lower than the record 45,774 crossings for the whole of 2022. But is still the second highest annual total on record, above the figure for 2021 (28,526).

With figures tracking slightly higher so far in 2024 than at the same time last year, Downing Street said there were “variations” in the number of crossings taking place but it was “too early to say what the trend is for this year” when asked whether the Prime Minister was on track to achieve his pledge to “stop the boats”.

The Government is “working very closely with our French counterparts”, Mr Sunak’s spokesman added.

Earlier this month Home Secretary James Cleverly – who has set himself a target of meeting Mr Sunak’s “stop the boats” pledge by the end of this year – insisted the weather was not a “contributory factor” to last year’s falling number of migrant crossings.

The decrease was instead because of co-operation with Europe, disrupting the supply chain of engines and boats, and “going after the money of these people smugglers”, he said, as the Government argued the figures were evidence of the UK’s £480 million agreement with France to beef up efforts to stop migrants making the journey starting to pay off as well as the effectiveness of a fast-track returns deal struck with Albania.

But the Immigration Services Union, which represents border staff, said the drop in arrivals was likely to be a “glitch”, with “higher numbers” of Channel crossings expected this year.

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said: “After all the Prime Minister’s boasts, almost 400 people crossed the Channel in small boats over the weekend – four times the average yearly capacity of Rwanda’s asylum system.

“It could take years to remove those who arrived this weekend, even if the Prime Minister did manage to get a few symbolic flights off the ground.”

Migrant Channel crossing incidents
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel earlier this month (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our priority is to stop the boats, which is why we have taken robust action to crackdown on vile people smuggling gangs, deter migrants from making dangerous crossings and, alongside our French counterparts, intercept vessels.

“This relentless action reduced crossings by 36% last year, which saw similar weather conditions to 2022, and more than 26,000 attempts were prevented.

“The fact we have seen three devastating fatal incidents in three months highlights the unacceptable risks that migrants and criminal gangs are running in pursuing these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary crossing attempts.”