Migrant crisis: 7 charts showing how small boat crossings in Europe compare to UK as Sunak says his plan is working

Tens of thousands of migrants or refugees have entered Europe by sea or land since the start of the year. Image: NationalWorldTens of thousands of migrants or refugees have entered Europe by sea or land since the start of the year. Image: NationalWorld
Tens of thousands of migrants or refugees have entered Europe by sea or land since the start of the year. Image: NationalWorld | NationalWorld
Each year thousands of migrants risk their lives by travelling to Europe on small boats – here's how the situation in continental Europe compares with the UK.

Almost 62,000 migrants and refugees crossed into Europe by sea during the first five months of 2023, with official figures showing how the Mediterranean remains the epicentre of the continent's migration crisis.

Today (5 June) Rishi Sunak suggested the UK was doing better than Europe in stopping the crisis during a press conference in Dover. During a speech where he gave updates about his plan to “stop the boats” he said: “Crossings elsewhere in Europe are up by almost a third over a similar time period… That’s a result I think of the actions we’ve put in place.”

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Official figures show tens of thousands of migrants or refugees crossed into Europe by sea in the first five months of the year, while last year nearly 200,000 risked their lives to make the journey, largely affecting Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece and Spain. 

The situation has become so severe in Italy that ministers called a six-month state of emergency in response to a rise in migrant numbers crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa in April earlier this year. 

Here we reveal how the migrant crisis in Europe compares to the one facing the UK.

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How do boat crossings compare in the UK to Europe?

Figures published by the Home Office show 7,610 migrants or refugees crossed the English Channel in the first five months of this year – the equivalent of 51 people crossing a day. However this remains a fraction of the 416 people who crossed into mainland Europe by sea each day during the same period. The chart below shows how the migrant small boat crisis has developed in the UK since 2018 – if you can’t see the chart you can open it in a new window here

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Data published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an agency of the United Nations, shows almost 62,000 people arrived in Europe by sea between 1 January and 29 May 2023. The chart below shows how many migrants or refugees have been identified arriving into Europe since 2016. Land arrivals are included in the data but arrivals by sea make up the vast majority of the annual figures. Click here if you can’t see the chart.

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Central Mediterranean countries remain worst affected by the small boats crisis, according to the figures. Italy has recorded almost 49,000 sea arrivals so far this year (as of 29 May) – six times greater than the UK’s figure. Spain is also highly affected by boat crossings, with 3,500 people being identified coming via the Western Mediterranean route and 4,200 from  the Western African Atlantic route. Greece also recorded 4,600 sea arrivals this year. 

Separate data published by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, suggests illegal border crossings into Europe show no sign of slowing down. In the first four months of the year the number of detections of irregular border crossings at the EU’s external borders reached almost 80,700, nearly 30% more than a year ago and the highest total for the January to April period since 2016. The chart below shows the routes with the greatest number of illegal border crossings during the three month period. Click here if you can’t see the chart.

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Who is travelling to Europe and the UK by small boat?

IOM data also shows the most common nationalities of people crossing into Europe. So far in 2023, people from Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa were the most common nationality found to be crossing into the continent with almost 5,500 people identified, followed by Guinea with more than 4,200 people and Pakistan with more than 3,200 people. The chart below shows the most common nationalities identified as arriving into Europe in 2023. Click here if you can’t see it.

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In comparison, Afghans were found to be the most common nationality identified entering the UK by small boat. Home Office data shows in the first three months of 2023, almost 900 Afghan nationals had crossed the Channel, followed by nearly 700 Indians and more than 500 Iranians. However, since 2018 when records began, Iranians make up the largest bulk of nationalities, with more than 18,000 identified as having crossed the Channel, followed by more than 13,000 Albanians and nearly 13,000 Iraqis. The chart below shows the most common nationalities identified as arriving into the UK in 2023. Click here if you can’t see it.

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Europe’s missing people

Behind the figures remain human lives and IOM data gives a snapshot of the toll that irregular crossings take on migrants and asylum seekers. Between 2018 and 4 June 2023, 24,369 people have been recorded as having lost their lives or have gone missing while trying to cross into Europe, according to the Missing Migrants Project. So far this year, 1,188 people are estimated to have died or been reported missing while trying to enter Europe, with the Central Mediterranean route proving to be the most dangerous with 978 deaths or missing people being registered. The chart below shows migration routes in Europe that have claimed the most lives in 2023. Click here if you can’t see it.

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Earlier this year (February) at least 60 migrants, including 12 children, died after their boat sank off the southern coast of Italy. The people were from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iran, and a baby was among those dead. The chart below shows how many people have died or been reported missing trying to cross Europe since 2021. If you can’t see the chart click here to view it on a new page.

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Deaths as a result of crossing the English Channel remain significantly lower than in the Mediterranean but the 20 mile journey is still extremely dangerous to cross in a small boat. In November 2021, 27 migrants drowned in the Channel while trying to make the crossing.

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