Small boats crisis: 5 charts showing scale of challenge with Sunak set to announce Illegal Migration Bill

Rishi Sunak is set to announce the Illegal Migration Bill to stop migrants from arriving in the UK on small boats.

The UK government is set to announce tough new legislation to combat the ongoing migrant Channel crossing crisis, with the latest figures showing almost 90,000 people have made the journey in the past five years.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to put an end to “immoral” illegal migration and “stop the boats”. Under new government proposals due to be unveiled on Tuesday, migrants who enter the UK by small boats will be removed from the country, banned from future re-entry and unable to apply for British citizenship.

It is the latest attempt by the UK government to stop the thousands of people making the dangerous crossing each year. Last year it pledged to send migrants 6,000 miles away to Rwanda for processing but has faced multiple legal battles and as of yet not a single migrant has been sent to the central African country.

Figures published by the Home Office show 87,842 migrants have been detected crossing the English Channel in small boats since 2018 – enough to fill Wembley Stadium.

Who are the people making the perilous journey across the English Channel and what do we know about them? Here we reveal everything you need to know about the Channel crossing crisis.

Are Channel crossings getting worse?

Last year a record number of people crossed the English Channel in small boats. The latest figures from the Home Office shows 45,755 people made the crossing in 2022 – 153 times more than in 2018 when 299 people were detected.


The UK government’s attempts at using the Rwanda plan as a deterrent has also made little impact and since the plan was announced last April more than 43,000 people have made the crossing.

Monthly figures also show how the number of migrants crossing the Channel tends to increase in the summer months when weather conditions are better. The number of people crossing peaked in August of last year when more than 8,600 made the journey.


Where are the migrants coming from?

People from the Middle East were found to be making the most Channel crossings to the UK and the number peaked in 2021 when just under 18,000 migrants from the region were detected. Migrants from European countries not in the EU, like Albania and Turkey, had the second highest crossing rate at almost 15,000.


At a national level, the figures show most migrants have come from Iran. Between 2018 and 2022 almost 18,000 have come from the country. Albanians were the second most common nationality with 13,000 in total, this was followed by Iraqis with just under 13,000. Last year we revealed how more than a quarter of modern slavery victims identified in the UK were Albanian nationals after Home Secretary Suella Braverman appeared to pour scorn on the idea that people travelling to the UK from the ‘safe’ Eastern European nation could be human trafficking or slavery victims.


Further analysis by the Refugee Council shows most migrants are genuine asylum seekers. Earlier this year it was revealed that at least six out of ten (60%) of all those who made the crossing to the UK in small boats last year were to be recognised as refugees through the asylum process. Migrants can only claim asylum once they are physically in the UK.

Who is crossing the Channel?

More than 35,000 migrants who came to the UK via small boats between 2018 and 2022 were aged between 25 and 39 years old. This age group made up 43% of all migrants whose age was known. Thousands of children aged under 18 were also found to have made the crossing. In total 13,220 children crossed the Channel. It is not known whether they were accompanied or not.


The figures also show a clear gender split in who is coming to the UK. Of the 82,000 migrants whose gender was known, 88% were found to be male.

How many people have died crossing the Channel?

From using makeshift rafts to inflatable dingies, the 20 mile journey between France and the UK is extremely dangerous and behind the statistics lie the stories of thousands of people. In November 2021, 27 migrants drowned in the Channel while trying to make the crossing.

The crisis is not isolated to the UK and France either. Last month 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.