Nearly 30,000 migrants crossed the Channel illegally in 2023, down sharply from 2022
Nearly 30,000 migrants crossed the English Channel illegally on makeshift boats in 2023, a sharp drop from the record year of 2022. The drop is partly due to the UK government's recent crackdown on asylum and immigration with increasingly tough legislation. Meanwhile, there has also been a decline in the number of migrants using Belgium as a transit country to reach the UK.
The figures are being closely monitored in the UK, where successive Conservative governments have promised to "take back control of the borders" after Brexit. Immigration is set to be a key issue in the campaign for the general election due in 2024. Prime minister Rishi Sunak has promised to stop illegal migrants crossing the Channel.
In 2023, 29,437 migrants made the crossing, compared to 45,774 in 2022, according to figures from the UK Home Office. However, the 2023 figure remains the second highest on record, higher than that of 2021 (28,526).
The current British government, which has adopted extremely restrictive asylum laws, still intends to deport migrants who have entered the UK illegally to Rwanda. The plan was blocked by the High Court, but London has reached a new agreement with Kigali. The new bill is "the toughest piece of immigration legislation ever put before Parliament", Sunak told MPs in December.
Along with France, Belgium is often used as a transit country for migrants crossing the Channel to the UK. However, figures released by the ministry of Justice last year showed that traffickers are increasingly abandoning Belgium as a transit country. In 2018, Belgian police still discovered almost 13,000 transmigrants. Remarkably, this number has fallen by 90 per cent in recent years, to 1,065 in 2022. The full figures for 2023 have not yet been published.
According to the ministry of Justice, this decrease is partly due to frequent police checks, extensive international cooperation against human trafficking, the use of data found on confiscated smartphones by the Federal Judicial Police (FGP) and strict penalties for traffickers.
Migrants are escorted ashore by the UK Border Force in Dover, on June 15, 2023, after having been picked up at sea while attempting to cross the Channel © HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP