More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Channel on small boats from France to southeast England since Britain began publicly recording the arrivals in 2018, official figures revealed on Friday.
Some 755 migrants were detected on Thursday on 14 small boats headed for England’s southern coast, the UK interior ministry statistics showed, the highest tally on a single day this year.
Those boats bring the number of arrivals so far this year to nearly 16,000, and takes the total since counting the perilous cross-Channel journeys started in 2018 to 100,715.
Also on Friday, officials were relocating asylum-seekers from a barge docked off the southwest English coast after Legionella bacteria was found in the water only days after the migrants had been moved aboard.
The interior ministry said none of the 39 who arrived on the vessel this week had shown symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by the bacteria but is not contagious.
“The health and welfare of individuals on the vessel is our utmost priority,” a ministry spokesperson added.
The Channel crossings have become a highly contentious political issue and prompted the UK government to introduce legislation barring asylum claims by all arrivals via the Channel and other “illegal” routes.
The new law also mandates their transfer to third countries, such as Rwanda, but both policies are on hold amid a court challenge over the legality of sending migrants to east Africa.
The plans have been condemned by migrant advocates, including the United Nations’ refugee agency.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government claims it has been forced to pursue the hardline deterrents as the surge in cross-Channel arrivals increasingly stretches resources.
– 2023 numbers lower –
Britain’s asylum system is facing a huge backlog, a delay that rights groups assert is of the government’s own making.
At the end of March, more than 130,000 asylum-seekers were in limbo, still waiting for their applications to be processed.
The cost of housing those applicants and other migrant arrivals has reached more than six million pounds ($7.6 million) a day, according to officials, as they resort to using hotels and other temporary accommodation.
But the move to house migrants aboard the “Bibby Stockholm” barge has irked both locals, including the local Conservative MP, as well as rights campaigners.
Sunak, who made “stopping the boats” one of his five key aims in 2023 ahead of an expected general election next year, has insisted his strategy is prevailing, despite the arrivals.
The issue is set to remain prominent, with migration a perennial top concern of voters, particularly those who typically opt for his Conservatives.
The final tally of cross-Channel arrivals in 2023 appears set to be lower than the previous year for the first time since the route began to grow in popularity at the end of the last decade.
Just 299 migrants made the journey in 2018. During 2020 it had climbed to 8,466 while last year saw a record 45,755 arrivals.
The lower numbers in 2023 could be due to months of particularly poor weather, which makes the journeys in small inflatable vessels almost impossible.
French authorities have also stepped up patrols and other deterrent measures after London agreed in March to send Paris hundreds of millions of euros annually towards the effort.
The route across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes has repeatedly proved perilous, with several capsizings and scores of migrants drowning in the waters over the last decade.