Growing number of Afghans risking lives on small boats to reach UK

Afghans crossing the English Channel in small boats made up just under a fifth of arrivals in the first half of 2022, Home Office figures show.

Jemma Crew
Thursday 25 August 2022 16:19 BST
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Ramsgate, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Ramsgate, Kent, onboard a Border Force vessel following a small boat incident in the Channel (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A growing number of people fleeing Afghanistan are risking their lives to reach the UK on small boats – and are at risk of being sent to Rwanda after arriving.

The number of Afghans crossing the English Channel on small boats has increased since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul last year, making up just under a fifth of arrivals in the first half of 2022, Home Office figures show.

Since 2020 a “greater mix of nationalities have been detected making the crossing”, with Albanian and Afghan nationals “becoming notably more common in 2022”, the Government said.

There were 2,066 arrivals of Afghans between January and June 2022, compared with just 247 in January to June 2021.

And over the whole of 2021 there were 1,437 Afghan arrivals, 494 in 2020, 69 in 2019 and three in 2018, the figures showed.

Separate figures also published on Thursday show that more than 11,300 Afghan refugees have received indefinite leave to remain in the UK under two visa schemes set up for them.

These are the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) for current and former locally employed staff, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

Those arriving by small boats are not eligible via these visa routes but can claim asylum, with the majority doing so.

But, according to officials, there is the potential that they could be taken to Rwanda under the agreement struck by Home Secretary Priti Patel four months ago in a bid to curb Channel crossings.

Under the deal, the East African nation will receive migrants deemed by the UK to have arrived “illegally” and are therefore inadmissible under new immigration rules.

But the first deportation flight – due to take off on June 14 – was grounded amid legal challenges.

The Home Office figures also show that there were just over 5,000 applications for asylum from Afghans in the year to June 2022.

Afghans were the fourth most common nationality applying for asylum, after Iranians, Iraqis and Albanians.

These figures make clear that the asylum system needs urgent reform

Marley Morris, IPPR

Ms Patel said she is “incredibly proud” that nearly 21,500 people, including British nationals, have been brought to safety from Afghanistan.

She said: “One year on, our work to help Afghans resettled in the UK has not stopped – there are still weekly flights, our resettlement schemes remain open and we will be welcoming thousands more people to our country.”

Dr Peter William Walsh, senior researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said refugees have “vastly different experiences” depending on where they are coming from.

He said: “Most Afghan refugees cannot access the UK resettlement schemes, and there is no way to apply to them.

“That explains why a substantial number of Afghans are coming through the asylum system despite the prospect of long waiting times and recent policies designed to deter asylum seekers.

“By contrast, where there have been legal routes to seek protection in the UK as in the Ukraine and Hong Kong cases, people have been keen to take them up.”

Marley Morris, IPPR associate director for migration, trade and communities, said: “Despite the Government’s claims to support Afghan refugees, many believe they are being left with no option but to attempt the dangerous journey across the Channel.

“These figures make clear that the asylum system needs urgent reform. The Government should ramp up safe and legal routes, speed up asylum decision making, and drop its inhumane plans to relocate asylum seekers to Rwanda.”

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