Newsnight's Reality Check On Whether The UK Is Really In A Migrant Crisis Might Surprise You

“The UK currently takes far fewer asylum seekers than many of our European neighbours.”
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel in November.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, by a Border Force vessel, following a small boat incident in the Channel in November.
Gareth Fuller - PA Images via Getty Images

BBC Newsnight has dissected the alleged migrant crisis the UK is supposedly facing at its borders – and concluded that the situation was not quite as overwhelming as the government might have made out.

Why is everyone talking about migrants?

Small boat crossings in 2021 have seen approximately 25,000 people travel across the English Channel arriving in the UK.

This is more than three times the total number from 2020 – only 8,500 people chose to make the journey back then.

As the government has continuously promised to crack down on immigration, this has infuriated people who think Downing Street is not living up to its promises.

What has the government been saying?

Home secretary Priti Patel has been focusing on stopping the steady flow of asylum seekers coming to Britain on small boats across the Channel from France for years.

According to the home office, migrants are “putting their lives at risk” and being exploited by “criminal gangs” when they agree to travel across the channel.

A spokesperson added: “People should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive in and ask part of our response it is important we have a maritime deterrent in the channel and work with international partners to put an end to these dangerous journeys.”

As the numbers of migrants arriving into the UK appears to have reached an all-time high, Patel is facing further criticisms and even seems to be in a briefing war against her own civil servants over her handling of the situation.

She has previously vowed to find “operational solutions” and new sea tactics to “turn back the boats”, and has even promised £54million to the French to prevent people leaving the French shores and turning up to the UK.

On Monday, Patel changed tact and said the only solution is “wholesale reform of our asylum system”, and that we must make crossing the Channel less “attractive” for migrants.

The migrant crisis has also described as one of the prime minister’s “most pressing priorities” at the moment.

Cumulative migrant crossings of the English Channel to the UK
Cumulative migrant crossings of the English Channel to the UK
PA GraphicsPress Association Images

Are we actually seeing more asylum seekers?

The majority of those who arrive via the Channel have been claiming political asylum immediately, as they have come from war-torn areas such as Syria and Iran and Afghanistan.

Newsnight’s Ben Chu explained: “Given the surge in boat arrivals, one might expect UK asylum claims to be soaring.

“But there’s no sign of that in the data – at least, not yet.

“In the year leading up to June 2021, there were 31,115 asylum applications – 4% fewer than in the previous year.

“This is less than half the level compared to the earlier 2000s.”

Other asylum routes, such as aviation or ferry, have been disrupted due to the pandemic so “there’s something of the displacement effect” when it comes to the number of asylum seekers travelling by boat across the Channel.

Asylum applications in the UK
Asylum applications in the UK
PA GraphicsPress Association Images

Are we taking on more asylum seekers than our European neighbours?

In terms of absolute number of asylum seekers each country has taken on, other European nations such as Italy, Spain and France were all ahead of the UK.

The UK receives fewer asylum seekers per resident than the EU average.

Chu also pointed out that when adjusting for the size of the UK population, Britain is even further down the rankings when compared to its neighbours.

Long term immigration has also remained the same since the EU referendum of 2016 – but it is now made up predominantly of people from outside the EU.

So – why is anyone worrying?

As Newsnight host Emily Maitlis summarised: “Net migration to the UK is actually down – more people are leaving than coming into the country, in other words.

“The UK currently takes far fewer asylum seekers than many of our European neighbours.”

However, Chu pointed out: “Whether immigration from [outside the EU] will remain high is unclear.

“What we do know is that it is being driven by formal economic migration and students not asylum seekers.”

This is putting pressure on the border patrols, nearby communities, and, in turn, on the government, as its critics round on the growing number of migrants arriving at UK shores.

The Observer’s editorial provides another scathing perspective and condemns Patel’s focus on the migrant crisis. It claims the home secretary is “more interested in using asylum seekers as pawns in the government’s culture war” than actually helping those who need asylum.