April 20 2024
Close this search box.

Most people crossing Channel by small boats likely to be recognised as refugees, says Home Office stats

Most people crossing Channel by small boats likely to be recognised as refugees, says Home Office stats

Priti Patel speaking at the Tory Party conference (Pic: Sky News)

A new report published by the Refugee Council this week has found that 91% of the people who take the perilous boat journey across the English Channel hail from just ten countries where human rights abuses and persecution are rife, including Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. Of these, eight of the countries have a significantly higher rate of granted asylum than the average of all nationalities.

Based on Freedom of Information data and Home Office statistics for the period between January 2020 and May 2020, an analysis of Channel crossings & asylum outcomes disproves the Home Secretary’s repeated claims that Channel crossings are embarked upon primarily by male ‘economic migrants’ elbowing out ‘genuine asylum seekers’. The findings come at a time when the daily number of attempted Channel crossings hits a record, and the refugee crisis in Europe reaches a tipping point. Tensions with France, and now Albania, in a post-Brexit world are also intensifying.

‘The reality is that people who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys in small boats across the Channel do so because they are desperately seeking safety having fled persecution, terror and oppression,’ explained Enver Soloman, CEO of the Refugee Council, in a foreword to the report. ‘Their lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own and they are exploited by callous people smugglers.’

According to the research, more than six out of 10 of initial decisions from the top 10 countries of origin arriving by small boat made in the 18 months to June 2021 would have resulted in refugee protection being granted (61%). This compares to just over half decisions made for all nationalities in the same period (52%).

The report shows that for Syrians the grant rate is likely to be 88%, for Eritreans 84%, for Sudanese and those from Yemen 70%, for Iranians 67%, for Vietnamese 65%, for people from Kuwait 61% and for Afghans 56%

Over the course of her tenure, Priti Patel has been accused by human rights campaigners of peddling myths and stoking a culture, which has fuelled panic and border violence. The government is being urged to scrap controversial plans to ‘offshore’ migrants during application processing, carry out invasive age-testing on children, and give border officials immunity from prosecution in the event of migrant deaths. The Nationality and Borders Bill has attracted considerable criticism for introducing a swathe of ‘cruel’ measures pursuant to a hostile government agenda.

According to the Refugee Council, the Home Office’s policy of deterrence and punishment of people fleeing conflict zones will only force them to take even greater risks getting to our shores. Recommendations for immigration reform include an expansion of family reunion rights, and the creation of humanitarian visas; currently, an individual must already be in the UK in order to apply for asylum, an approach which falls out of step with other European countries, and directly contradicts Priti Patel’s intent to clamp down on ‘illegal’ boat crossings. Human Rights Watch points to the West’s responsibility to build controlled and compassionate immigration systems that will address the structural racism and discriminatory policymaking to undo the legacy of colonisation and global inequities.


  • 70% of people arriving via small boats (12,195 people) from January 2020 to May 2021 came from just five countries of origin: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam.
  • Over 91% of the total small boat arrivals (11,123 people) came from just ten countries of origin, including Afghanistan, the 7th highest nationality of all small boat arrivals.
  • Iranians (the top nationality) accounted for 26% of all arrivals.
  • 98% of people who arrive after crossing the Channel in a small boat make a claim for asylum.
  • Eight of the countries in the top 10 have a higher grant rate (i.e. are granted asylum) than the overall grant rate for all nationalities.
  • Nine of the countries in the top 10 have a higher success rate at appeal than the overall rate (46%) for all nationalities, a clear indicator that the majority of people crossing the Channel who lodge an appeal after having their case refused by the Home Office, could have the refusal overturned by the court.
  • There are extremely limited alternative ‘safe routes’ available for many of the top nationalities crossing the Channel. The UK did not resettle a single person from Kuwait, Yemen or Vietnam in the period January 2020 to May 2021 and only one person from Iran was resettled (Iranians are the top nationality for people crossing the Channel).