Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his government has made progress on limiting migration to the UK, pointing to reductions in the number of people arriving without permission and in the backlog of asylum cases.
Sunak’s statement came with Home Office figures released Monday showing that the number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats dropped 36% last year, the first decline in at least five years. The government also reduced the asylum case backlog, making 112,000 determinations and removing 24,000 people.
“I am determined to end the burden of illegal migration on the British people,” Sunak said. “We are saving the taxpayer millions of pounds in expensive hotel costs, reducing the strain on public services.”
Sunak’s pledges to “stop the boats” and clear the asylum backlog will be major issues in an election widely expected to be held in 2024. The case backlog has been costing taxpayers £8 million ($10.2 million) a day to cover the cost of housing people in hotels, detention centers and even a barge while they await decisions.
But the progress hailed by Sunak may be short-lived. An official from the Immigration Services Union warned that “higher numbers” of migrants are expected in 2024, as last year’s crossings were likely affected by high winds over the Channel in December. There have been arrivals since the middle of the month.
“We have also had much larger boats, more seaworthy boats, so the planning assumption is that this is a glitch,” Lucy Moreton, a professional officer at the union, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program. “Will we see the peak that we saw in 2022? Maybe not, but certainly more than we have seen in the last year.”
In total, Home Office data showed more than 29,400 people arrived in the UK in small boats last year, down from the record of more than 45,700 in 2022. Sunak is under fire from members of his own Conservative Party for allowing migration to soar – via both legal and irregular routes into the country.
The Conservatives made control over the UK border a central argument for the 2016 decision to leave the European Union. One of the Tories’ key election pledges in 2019 was to reduce net migration. Instead, it soared to a record 745,000 last year, although a vast majority came through legal routes.
The government sees clearing the backlog of asylum cases as well as sending those who arrive to Rwanda as essential to reducing the UK’s appeal to migrants.
“While illegal entries across Europe are going up, the number of people coming into the UK illegally is going down,” Home Secretary James Cleverly said. “This is a significant achievement, but the job is far from over.”
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