Small boat migrant arrivals by late April at highest level ever

The number of migrants that have crossed the Channel in small boats during the first four months of the year is at its highest ever level.

Some 7,167 people have arrived on UK shores after travelling by small boat from the continent between 1 January to 27 April, with 902 entering just this past week

This compares to 5,745 for the same period last year. The previous record was 6,691 in 2022.

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The figures come after Rishi Sunak has staked much of his political future on getting the number of migrant boat crossings down.

On Sky's Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips programme he said migrants travelling to Ireland after arriving in the UK on small boats was a sign the Rwanda scheme was already working as a deterrent.

"People are worried about coming here and that demonstrates exactly what I'm saying," he told Sky News.

"If people come to our country illegally, but know that they won't be able to stay there, they are much less likely to come, and that's why the Rwanda scheme is so important."

However, the news that migrants are crossing from Northern Ireland into the Republic has sparked an outcry in the country, and prompted the government in Dublin to announce they are planning emergency legislation to send asylum seekers back to Britain.

More than 80% of recent arrivals in the republic came via the land border with Northern Ireland, Irish justice minister Helen McEntee told a parliamentary committee last week.

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Stopping the boats was one of the government's five priorities set out by the prime minister after he took office in 2023.

The latest figures have been seized upon by Labour, with shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock saying: "This is the blunt reality behind all of Rishi Sunak's empty boasts: more people have arrived by small boats so far this year than ever before and more people are having to be rescued.

"What will it take for Rishi Sunak to wake up and realise that his plan is not working?

"We desperately need a Labour government in place to get a grip of this issue.

"Our plan would strengthen Britain's border security, crush the smuggling gangs, clear the asylum backlog, end hotel use, and set up a new returns and enforcement unit so those with no right to be in the UK are swiftly returned."

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Earlier this week, the prime minister said the government would "begin the process of removing those identified for the first flight" to Rwanda.

Mr Sunak said that they had increased detention spaces to 2,200 and had 200 caseworkers "ready and waiting" to process asylum claims.

He added that 25 courtrooms and 150 judges had been provided to deal with any legal cases quickly.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The unacceptable number of people who continue to cross the Channel demonstrates exactly why we are operationalising our plans to get flights off the ground to Rwanda as soon as possible.

"We continue to work closely with French police who are facing increasing violence and disruption on their beaches as they work tirelessly to prevent these dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journeys.

"We remain committed to building on the successes that saw arrivals drop by more than a third last year, including tougher legislation and agreements with international partners, in order to save lives and stop the boats."