The latest Irregular Migration to the UK statistics from the UK Home Office for the first six months of 2023 show a rise in unknown nationalities of small boat migrants coming across the English Channel compared with a year earlier. What could be behind this? Poor data recording or more migrants arriving and not handing over any documentation to identify who they are?
Rapid fall in the number of Albanian nationals recorded in small boats
In 2022, Albanians were the most common nationality of small boat arrivals across the English Channel, representing 28% of the 45,774 detected as coming from France. This led to the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, signing a deal last December with the Albanian Government aiming to rapidly remove Albanians who arrive in the UK illegally.
Since this deal, there has been a rapid fall in the number of recorded Albanians coming across the English Channel. In the first six months of 2023, there were only 148 Albanians who were detected, compared with 2,165 over the same period in 2022.
Does this represent success for the UK Government?
On the face of it, the numbers look promising. However, when you dig into them a little more, it raises other questions.
Four-fold increase in the number of small boat arrivals with no recorded nationality
Each August, the Home Office publishes the nationality data of small boat arrivals for the first six months of the year. In the first six months of 2022, Albania topped the list as the most common nationality. However, not every arrival has a nationality recorded at the time of publication. Of the 12,747 arrivals in the first six months of 2022, 7.8%, or 999, did not have their nationality recorded as of August 2022.
Fast forward twelve months and looking at the data for the first six months of 2023, we have seen a rapid rise in the numbers of people with no nationality recorded: 3,981 people, a four-fold increase compared to the previous year
The number of people recorded as arriving from Iran (921 in 2023 vs 1,723), Iraq (656 vs 1,753), and Syria (602 vs 1,041) is down but nowhere near the rapid decline in Albanian migrants crossing the channel.
Are Albanian migrants coming over the channel and disposing of documents they would have previously shown before the UK-Albanian deal?
Without more information, it is difficult to definitively say whether the UK-Albanian deal has been a success. However, the rise in the number of people with no nationality recorded at the same time as the rapid fall in Albanians does indicate there may have been a shift in the behavior of those arriving.
It should be noted that over time, the Home Office will identify and record the nationality of some of the currently unrecorded nationalities. But I am comparing the same point in time between two consecutive years, so either the effort involved in data publication is deteriorating or there is a genuine increase in the number of people arriving that officials are unable to identify their nationality.
Remember, it is important to note that the Home Office data only includes small boat arrivals that have been detected. It is possible that there are many others who have arrived in the UK illegally on the shores of Southern England, have not been detected, and have not entered the asylum system. But the Home Office needs to explain the rise in unknown nationalities of small boat migrants arriving in the UK.
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