Channel Tracking Station – Unauthorised Crossings From France

Legal Matters, Migration Trends

6,957 people have entered the UK in hundreds of boats after crossing the Channel from safe countries since the start of 2018. 4,768 have come since the start of the year in over 300 boats – and 4,359 since the so-called ‘lockdown’ started.

Five times as many people entered the UK via this illegal route between January and the end of July 2020 compared to the same period in the previous year – 3,740 compared to 761 (see Annex below for breakdowns).

235 people illegally entered after 17 boats brought them over on 6 August, the worst-day so far for such crossings (media report).

Our earlier estimate of at least 7,500 total detected arrivals in 2020 may be far surpassed if there is no effective action to stop them (see our paper).

We are the only think tank holding the government to account on this (if you can help us to do so, please contribute here).

The number arriving since the start of 2020 (nearly 3,900) is now nearly five times the estimated total of just over 800 that arrived during the same period (until early August) in 2019.

This after a total of £114 million of taxpayers’ money was paid to France since 2015 to stop illegal immigration (see short briefing paper, updated 19 June). We are clearly not getting value for money.

The UK is spending £500 million of taxpayers’ money each year on free accommodation for asylum seekers over the next decade (total of £4.8 billion in the ten years from mid-2019 – see National Audit Office summary).

This even includes tens of millions on failed asylum seekers who have no right to be in the UK.

This can only encourage people to make overtly illegal and deadly trips after which many claim asylum, even though they are travelling from a safe country from which they do not require protection. Also see this Home Office page telling people what they will get if they claim asylum.

Many people are actually brought to the UK by the Border Force after being encountered the Channel.

A clear majority (60%) of the public said they think the government is not taking sufficient measures to stop the problem (2020 Deltapoll – see summary). Over 60% also say those arriving illegally in this manner should be removed (Ipsos, Autumn 2019). The government’s lack of effectiveness in dealing with this so far may help explain why the share of the public saying the government is handling immigration badly has risen by 18% since March.


Only around 5%-7% of those who come via this illegal route have been sent back to the safe countries of the EU. The total understood to have been returned during 2019 is 125 out of 1,892 (just under 7%).

Meanwhile, the government has said that ‘over 155’ have been removed between January 2019 and May 2020 (Parliamentary Answer, June 2020). 155 returns would is just 5% of the 2,900 or so who arrived during that period.

The Home Office reportedly conceded in mid-June that none of the 1,100 or so migrants who had crossed the Channel since the start of May had been removed despite the government’s pledge to send people back to France (see media report).

If true this appears to be linked to the fact that, as the government has stated, the ‘the vast majority of EU member states have temporarily paused accepting returns under the Dublin Regulations’ due to Covid-19 (see parliamentary answer).

However, on 19 July the Minister for Immigration Compliance was reported as saying: “We are removing those who are making these illegal crossing from the UK. More than 160 people will be returned to Italy, Germany and France and return requests are in place for hundreds more.”

In mid-August it was reported that Dublin returns had restarted, with 14 people being flown to France and Germany. This would put the total returned since January 2019 at ‘over 169’.

Read more about this topic in our briefing paper on illegal channel crossings (published 8 May 2020), which was covered in The Times, the Daily Telegraph and Mail Online.


As there are no regularly-released official figures, the following estimates are based on both specific information released by the Home Office, and other bodies, and on individual media reports:


297 people were brought to the UK after having been encountered by Border Force (191) or arrived in the UK on their own (106). A third – 144 – of the total of 441 who made the attempt, but did not abort their journey, were ‘intercepted and returned to France’ (Home Office, March 2019).


1,892 people successfully crossed the Channel (BBC News). This includes most of the estimate that 1,456 people believed to have arrived between December 2018 and October 2019 (Sky News). Of these, the Home Office said it had returned ‘over 85’, which means that only around 6% – or one in 17 – were sent back. It appears that 400-500 made it to the UK between October and the end of 2019 (figure compiled from individual media reports).


4,768 people have crossed already this year – this is based on individual and compiled media reports, compared against Home Office announcements (see Annex A below).

Total = 6,957

Annex A

Breakdown of reported arrivals during 2020 so far


4,768 people have been detected crossing the Channel illegally so far this year (including 4,359 people since so-called ‘lockdown’ began on 23 March). The BBC said on 7 August that more than 300 boats have come so far this year.

August: Total for month so far = at least 1,028

  • 13 August – At least 84 people were picked up (see media report).
  • 12 August – 71 people in six boats brought to UK (see media report).
  • 11 August – Another 96 people in seven boats crossed the Channel (see media report).
  • 10 August – 18 migrants arrive in a boat (see media report).
  • 9 August – 65 people arrive (see media report).
  • 8 August – 151 people come in 15 boats (see media report).
  • 7 August – 146 people arrive in 17 boats (see media report).
  • 6 August – 235 migrants get to the UK in one day – a new record (see media report and media report).
  • 5 August – An estimated 39 migrants arrived (see media report here and here). This based on a media report pointing to 15 arrivals in one boat and another suggesting there were two more boats. With an average number of occupants of each boat being 12, the estimated total is 39. This will be updated should more detailed information on this day’s arrivals be released by the Home Office.
  • 4 August – Eight boats carrying 120 migrants arrive (see media report here).
  • 3 August – At least 3 migrants from Sudan found in a boat off Ramsgate (see media report).
  • 1 August – Unknown number of migrants enter at St Margaret’s Bay, Kent (see video footage).

July: Total for month = 1,308

  • 31 July – Nine boats carrying 96 migrants cross the Channel. The occupants of the boats presented themselves as Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi, Eritrean, Kuwaiti, Afghani, and Sudanese (see media report).
  • 30 July – 202 migrants reached the UK – a then-record (see media report).
  • 23 July – 86 migrants reach the UK in eight boats (seee media report).
  • 22 July – 43 migrants arrive on four boats (see media report). They described themselves as Egyptian, Algerian, Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Sudanese and Pakistani nationals.
  • 21 July – 159 migrants cross in 13 boats (see media report).
  • 19 July – 200 migrants cross in the worst-ever day for crossings. They included someone trying to reach in a pedalo stolen from a French beach. The 200 migrants, in about 40 vessels, were met ­by Border Force, backed up by the RNLI and police (see media report).
  • 18 July – Another 65 migrants get to the UK in five incidents (see media report). The Home Office said the latest migrants presented themselves as being from a number of nationalities including Eritrean, Syrian, Iranian, Gambian, Bissau-Guinean and Malian..
  • 17 July – Nine migrant boats carrying 137 people were met by the Border Force in the English Channel (see news report).
  • 15 July – A total of 85 migrants were helped ashore by Border Force in six incidents in the Channel (see news report).
  • 13 July – 32 migrants arrive via this illegal route in four small boats (see news report).
  • 12 July – ‘A staggering 360 illegal immigrants were caught trying to cross on this day, the Home Office confirmed. A then-record 180 were able to get across’ (see news report).
  • 11 July – 6 migrants come to the UK via the Channel (see new report).
  • 7 July – 10 migrants brought to Dover early in the morning. They were understood to be Somali, Sudanese and Yemeni (see news report).
  • Unknown dates – At least 7 more migrants arrived at different dates during the month.

June: Total for month = 680

  • 26 June – 99 migrants arrive in eight boats. Among them are Syrians and Iraqis (see media reports here and here).
  • 24 June – 82 migrants in six boats were brought to the UK by Border Force after being met in the Channel. Those onboard the boats presented themselves as Iranian, Somalian, Syrian, Yemeni, Kuwaiti, Afghan, Egyptian, Indian, Iraqi. There were also individuals from Togo and Niger (see news report).
  • 21 June – 28 migrants in two dinghies and a kayak were brought to the UK by Border Force after they crossed the Channel illegally from a safe country in Northern Europe. There were 24 males and four females. They were reported to be Sudanese, Iranian, Kuwaiti, Iraqi, Syrian and Ethiopian (see media report).
  • 18 June – An unconfirmed figure of 30 more people are brought to the UK by Border Force after being found in two small boats in the Channel (see media report).
  • 17 June – 42 people were brought to the Kent ports after Border Force vessels went to meet three small boats that were illegally crossing the Channel. They gave their nationalities as Afghan, Kuwaiti, Iranian, Iraqi, Yemini, Syrian and Turkish (see news report).
  • 15/16 June – 70 people brought into the Port of Dover by the Border Force after they crossed the Channel (see media report). They arrived in a spate of four incidents. A number of those arriving gave their nationalities as Cote D’Ivorian, Guinean, Kuwaiti, Iranian, Iraqi, Etritrean, Albanian, Sudanese and South Sudanese.
  • 14 June – Border Force meets two boats carrying 17 migrants (see media report).
  • 11 June – At least 8 migrants brought ashore after boat crossings. The Home Office has yet to confirm the number or nationalities. We will keep this updated if more information is released (see media report).
  • 10 June – 44 migrants come including four people on two windsurfing boards tied together . They were reported to be Iranian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Afghani and Syrian nationals (see media report).
  • 3 June – 167 come in one day, at that time a new record number for one 24-hour period (see media report).
  • Unknown dates – Other media reports suggest 93 migrants arrived at other dates.

May: Total for month = 684

  • 27 May – 60 migrants brought ashore yesterday after being intercepted in the Channel in four incidents (see media report).
  • 26 May – Boats and kayak carry 80 people across Channel (see media report).
  • 22 May – 13 people came to the UK via this route (see media report).
  • 20 May – 64 migrants made it across the Channel in five boats (see media report).
  • 17 May – a further 35 people were picked up in three boats (see media report).
  • 16 May – 90 people brought to Dover by Border Force after they crossed in six boats (see media report).
  • 13/14 May – Another 14 migrants reach Dover (see media report).
  • 10 May – 17 migrants brought here after being encountered by the Border Force off the Kent coast. The Home Office said there were 11 men and six women on board who presented themselves as Iraqi nationals (see media report).
  • 9 May – The Home Office picked up a further 82 migrants, seventy of whom were aboard inflatable boats, while 12 men were found at Dungeness on the Kent coast (see media report).
  • 8 May – A record 145 migrants were brought to Dover after making the perilous journey across the English Channel. This is believed to be a new single-day record after 102 were picked up on February 7. Those picked up were Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Afghan nationals (see media report).
  • 4 May – 16 migrants brought here after being encountered of the Kent coast by the Border Force (see media report).
  • 3 May – 49 migrants were brought here after being encountered by the Border Force off the Kent coast (see media report)
  • Unknown dates – Other media reports suggest 19 migrants arrived at other points during the month.

April: Total for month = 523

  • 27 April – 90 migrants brought here after being encountered in Channel (see media report).
  • 25 April – 35 migrants brought here after being encountered in the Channel (see media report).
  • 24 April – 76 migrants were brought to Dover by the UK Border Force (see media report).
  • 17 April – 73 migrants cross the Channel. Those landing in Dover were given face masks amid concerns about reports of a coronavirus outbreak in migrant camps in Calais (BBC News).
  • 9 April – A boat with 16 migrants brought here after being encountered in Dover area (BBC News).
  • 7 April – 63 migrants in four boats brought to Dover (BBC News)
  • 4 April – Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Syrian and Yemeni nationals were among the 53 people brought here after trying to cross the Channel. They were all taken ashore where they underwent medical checks and were passed to immigration officials, a government spokesman said. With the arrival of British Summer Time, such crossings were expected to become more frequent from now until the late autumn (see report).
  • 2 April – 52 migrants, including five children, brought here after being encountered in the Dover area (see report).
  • Unknown dates- Other media reports suggested that 65 migrants were reocrded as arriving at other times during the month.

March: Total for month = 228 (and 136 after lockdown on 23 March)

  • 27 March – Four small boats carrying 41 migrants were brought here after being encountered in the Channel (BBC News).
  • 25 March – 95 migrants brought to Kent after crossing. They included Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan or Kuwaiti nationals. They were among more than 160 migrants, in six boats, who were caught crossing the Channel as fewer French patrols and warmer weather prompted an upsurge in attempts. 74 of those who attempted the crossing were caught by French authorities and returned to Boulogne (The Times).
  • 23 March – Lockdown measures put in place in the UK to tackle Covid-19
  • 19 March – A total 39 migrants in three boats were stopped in vessels in the English Channel. Among them were said to be Iranian and Iraqi nationals (see report). 
  • 17 March – 25 migrants brought here after crossing the English Channel (see report).
  • 4 March28 people, in two boats (27 of them men), were brought here by the Border Force and taken to Dover where they were assessed medically and handed over to immigration officials (BBC News).

February: Total for month = 192

  • 7 February – 102 people brought here after being encountered in the English Channel – the highest number ever at that point since over 80 people arrived in one day in mid-2019. Five boats contained people said to be from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria (Sky News).
  • 6 February – 90 migrants were brought here after being encountered in the Dover area (in eight boats) while trying to reach the UK. The Home Office said all of those found, apart from the group detained by Kent Police, were taken to Dover where they were medically assessed before being transferred to immigration officials to be interviewed. They were said to be of Syrian, Yemeni, Egyptian, Iraqi, Senegalese, Malian and Guinean descent (see media report).

January: Total for month = 94

  • January – 94 migrants were brought to the UK after making the attempted crossing between 20 – 27 January, according to figures from the UK and French authorities (see media report).

During 2020 (unknown dates) = 31

  • Another 31 migrants are thought to have successfully made the crossing on unknown dates during the year so far (see news report).

11th May 2020

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