Press Story

Most people crossing into the UK on small boats would have successful asylum claims if they were processed, according to new research by IPPR.

Approximately 70 per cent of people who arrived in small boats since 2018 would be granted asylum if their claims were properly considered.

However, as things stand, around two fifths (43 per cent) of claims that have received an initial decision have not been considered properly because the government is instead seeking to remove them to a safe third country.

But since 2018 only a negligible number have actually been moved to a safe third country. This is largely because the UK has failed to make new agreements with most EU countries and the deal with Rwanda has yet to be implemented. This leaves thousands of people in limbo, having to wait months in UK asylum accommodation until after their application is ultimately admitted into the asylum system.

The number of people detected arriving in small boats has increased from around 300 in 2018 to more than 30,000 this year.

People from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Albania are among the nationalities most likely to risk the dangerous journey across the English Channel.

The research suggests three likely reasons behind the steep increase:

  • Tighter security in recent years has made other forms of clandestine entry – such as travelling through the Channel Tunnel concealed in a lorry – more difficult, increasing the appeal of using small boats

  • Withdrawal from EU asylum rules – the end of the Dublin Regulation’s application in the UK since Brexit has reduced the number of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers with family in the UK

  • Snowball effects – the initial success of using small boats has appeared to create a snowball effect, encouraging more and more to follow suit and making the route increasingly hard to contain.

IPPR says the huge increase in people coming to the UK in small boats highlights the failure of the government’s deterrence tactics. The current measures are likely to be ineffective and to further slow down the asylum and immigration system.

Alternative responses should include the creation of new safe and legal routes for asylum seekers and better cooperation with France and the EU.

The report also highlights the large numbers of people arriving by small boat facing extensive delays in receiving an initial asylum decision – with more than 7,500 applications waiting at least 12 months and 13 still waiting since claimants arrived in 2018 (as of March 2022), according to an FOI request submitted by IPPR.

Marley Morris, IPPR associate director, said:

“Our research shows that the overwhelming majority of people coming to the UK on small boats make a claim for asylum. We estimate that most people crossing the Channel would be successful in their asylum claims if they were properly considered. More people apply for asylum in France than the UK, but those crossing the Channel are likely to have specific reasons – for instance, they may have family or community ties in the UK.

“The government’s approach to the rise in small boats arriving in the UK has so far rested on deterrence tactics. But these tactics have failed. In order to address the rise in Channel crossings, we need an approach grounded in the evidence for why more and more people are making this dangerous journey.”