According to this article,

Meanwhile, ministers are understood to believe they have finally turned a corner on the number of migrants crossing the Channel, nearly five years after the crisis began.

What happened nearly five years ago that this may be referring to? Did some change prompt small boat crossings to sharply increase around that time?

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 5:05
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    From the link by Fizz: "Year-Arrivals (% change from prior year) 2018-299; 2019-1,843(+516.4%); 2020-8,466(+359.3%); 2021-28,526(+236.9%); 2022 - 45,755(+60.4%); 2023-20,101 (As of 1 September 2023)."
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 13:23

2 Answers 2


I think this is the original paper that has since been widely quoted.

A key issue is that the Government did not see the problem of small boat crossings as a consequence of its policy failures, most notably its failure to secure a post-Brexit returns arrangement with the EU.

Prior to Brexit small boat crossing were at a much lower level, because the existing returns agreement made the standard process to return migrants arriving on small boats to France.

Guardian in 2021

Before Brexit, the UK was part of an EU returns deal known as the Dublin agreement which the committee heard had allowed several hundred people to be returned in previous years.

Pulling in the numbers from Wikipedia. In 2018, 539 migrants were documented as arriving on small boats. Of them 227 were returned to France.

In 2022 by October 30th nearly 40,000 migrants were documented as arriving on small boats.

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    Okay but Brexit didn’t happen in 2018 or 2019.
    – Frank
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 18:19
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    @Frank And the big uptick in boats doesn't happen until 2020. The Wikipedia link show 1,900 in 2019 and 8.5k in 2020.
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 19:34
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    But the degraded relationship between the UK and EU is at the heart of all the changes. Because there is no where else for migrants to the UK to come from. You can't get here directly from anywhere relevant.
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 19:37
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    But the use of the phrase "nearly five years" seems to indicate a date more specific that general degradation of the relationship over the course of years. If the statement was nearly five years after brexit that would fit well, as it is it does not make sense to me.
    – User65535
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 20:10
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    I don't know. Sounds like the author of that article is trying to fit a narrative into an alternate history that didn't actually happen, but is hoping that the common reader is too gullible and illogical to challenge their statements with facts.
    – ouflak
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 8:58

Google "English Channel migration crisis". First result: Wikipedia "English Channel migrant crossings (2018–present)":

Seaborne crossings aboard small boats by would-be refugees and migrants were rare before November 2018. More commonly, they stowed away aboard trains, lorries or ferry boats, a technique that has become more difficult in recent years as British authorities have intensified searches of such vehicles.

Look at sources. For example, CNN (2018-12-28):

Until now, migrants sought to smuggle themselves aboard the trucks that regularly cross the Channel on ferries or by rail from France. But this, they say, has become more expensive, with people-smugglers charging thousands of euros for each attempt.

“The UK has invested a lot of money in protecting the lorry routes” from migrants crossing from France, said Nando Sigona, an associate professor in international migration at the University of Birmingham. “That route has probably been sealed off, or made more difficult to pursue.”

“This is the other option,” he told CNN. “No other alternative is available at the moment … once it becomes visible that it is possible to take this route, others will follow.” ...

Fears over Brexit could also be at play, experts said. The looming specter of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union on March 29, and the uncertainty it’s creating, may be giving people smugglers an avenue to exploit.

“If people think the borders are going to change, [the smugglers] could be telling people that as a way of getting them to prop up the money,” Doyle, the IOM spokesman, said, which could create a belief that this is the “last chance to get through.”

“That doesn’t mean there is going to be a change – but that’s how people are exploited,” he added. “These people have quite often never been in a boat before, so they don’t know what it means. They’re offered a way [across] and they take it.”

Hadi, a 32-year-old Iranian migrant living in the northern French coastal city of Dunkirk, told CNN earlier this month that “once the UK has left Europe,” he expects the crossing to get harder, “with more policemen.”

Brexit timeline:

The UK had long been expected to leave the European Union at 11pm on 29 March 2019.

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