Nearly 30,000 migrants crossed the Channel from mainland Europe to Britain in small boats in 2023, an annual drop of more than a third, according to government figures released Monday.
But the unauthorised arrival of 29,437 people on the southeast English coast is still the second-largest yearly tally since officials began publishing the numbers in 2018.
The perilous journeys across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes have become a huge political problem for Britain’s Conservative government, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledging last year to “stop the boats”.
One of five key promises he made for 2023, the promise of reducing persistently high numbers of migrant arrivals could haunt the Tory leader as he attempts to win a general election due this year.
Sunak said last month that there was no “firm date” for meeting his pledge.
The beleaguered leader will likely point to the 36 percent reduction in small-boat arrivals last year, after a record 45,000 migrants made the journey in 2022.
His government claims that a £480 million ($610 million) agreement with France to increase efforts to stop the migrants is starting to pay off, alongside fast-track return deals struck with countries such as Albania.
But Labour, the main opposition party — which has enjoyed double-digit poll leads for the duration of Sunak’s nearly 15 months in power — says Sunak has failed to keep his promise and his immigration policy is in chaos.
– ‘Unreasonable’ –
The Conservatives had hoped to deter the crossings by preventing all migrants arriving without prior authorisation from applying for asylum and sending some to Rwanda.
But the policy remains stalled after the UK Supreme Court ruled that deporting them to the east African country was illegal under international law.
The cross-Channel journeys on small inflatable vessels, which are often overloaded and unseaworthy, have repeatedly proved deadly.
Osun people next political interest
In November 2021, at least 27 people drowned when their dinghy capsized.
The UK government is also under pressure to reduce record numbers of immigration via pre-authorised arrivals, with the number in the year to June 2023 estimated to be 672,000 more than the number who left.
The figures contradict pledges by the Tories — in power since 2010 — to reduce overall migration to Britain after Brexit.
Ministers have in the last year announced various measures aimed at lowering that annual tally by 300,000, including by preventing almost all international students from bringing family members with them.
That change came into force on Monday, with interior minister James Cleverly calling the previous practice of permitting dependents to come with foreign students “unreasonable”.
He added that the new rules “will see migration falling rapidly by the tens of thousands and contribute to our overall strategy to prevent 300,000 people from coming to the UK”.
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