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Channel migrant crossings top 9,000 this year as record levels continue despite Rwanda deal

At least 2,700 migrants have made the journey since Priti Patel announced the agreement with Rwanda last month

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Monday 23 May 2022 13:49 BST
A young child amongst group of people thought to be migrants is carried by a member of the military as they are brought in to Dover, Kent, on 23 May 2022
A young child amongst group of people thought to be migrants is carried by a member of the military as they are brought in to Dover, Kent, on 23 May 2022 ( Gareth Fuller/PA Wire)

More than 9,000 migrants have crossed the English Channel in small boats so far this year, with at least 2,700 making the journey after a deal to send them to Rwanda was announced.

The record numbers have sparked questions over the effectiveness of the agreement as a deterrent, although government sources say it is too early to gauge its impact on asylum seekers’ decision-making.

“Up to 10” migrants have so far asked to be returned to their home countries rather than risk being sent to Rwanda, the Mail on Sunday reported.

The Home Office would not confirm the exact numbers or further details, but official documents show that the notices given to asylum seekers considered for deportation ask if they “wish to withdraw your asylum claim and return to your country of origin”.

Flights to Rwanda are not expected to take off for months, amid legal challenges by individual asylum seekers and groups that claim the policy violates international law.

A total of 9,078 people have crossed the Channel in small boats so far this year, two-and-a-half times the figure during the same period in 2021, and the vast majority are asylum seekers.

Analysis by The Independent shows that at least 2,700 asylum seekers have arrived since Priti Patel announced the Rwanda agreement in April.

Ministry of Defence figures show that 234 migrants arrived on Sunday alone, and women and young children were among the latest group arriving in Dover on Monday morning.

The home secretary backed the Rwanda deal during a visit to Geneva on Thursday, when she held meetings with United Nations representatives alongside the Rwandan foreign minister.

The Home Office said they set out how they were “facing up to a shared, global challenge and seeking to save lives”, and that Rwanda would process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention and human rights laws.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, maintained his opposition to the agreement following the meetings.

He wrote on Twitter that he had “reiterated concerns”, adding: “Shifting asylum responsibilities is not the solution. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) will continue proposing concrete alternatives that respect international refugee law.”

Mr Grandi has also issued warnings over the new Nationality and Borders Act, which criminalises asylum seekers who cross the Channel in small boats, and wider moves to declare their applications “inadmissible”.

Rwandan foreign minister Vincent Biruta and home secretary Priti Patel, right, during a visit to the UN headquarters in Geneva on 19 May 2022 (AP)

He said the changes “have the potential to deny refugees their right to seek asylum in the UK” and are “at variance with the Refugee Convention”.

“I am also concerned by the UK’s intention to externalise its obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers to other countries,” Mr Grandi added.

“Such efforts to shift responsibility run counter to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a party.”

He said the UNHCR would continue engaging with the British government on “practical means” to uphold its international commitments.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our new, world-leading Migration Partnership with Rwanda will see those who make dangerous, illegal or unnecessary journeys to the UK relocated to Rwanda and, if recognised as refugees, they will be supported to build a new life there.

“We are putting this plan into action, and have started to notify those who are in scope to be relocated to Rwanda, with more people notified this week. The first flight is expected to take place in the coming months.”

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