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People Crossing Channel from Countries With High Rates of Explosive Violence

New analysis shows how, for the majority of people crossing the Channel into the UK, home has become a place of bombs and shells

Migrants waiting to disembark at the Port of Dover after being rescued while crossing the English Channel on 14 April 2022. Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters/Alamy

People Crossing Channel from Countries with High Rates of Explosive Violence

New analysis shows how, for the majority of people crossing the Channel into the UK, home has become a place of bombs and shells

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A new investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team has exposed the links between Channel crossings and countries with high levels of death and injury as a result of explosive violence. 

Using data collected from Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) between 2020 and 2022, the extent of risk to people’s lives from explosive violence in the countries of origin of many of those crossing the Channel can be revealed.

Those countries are Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Syria.

The Byline Intelligence Team found that a total of 6,722 people were killed across the six nations as a result of explosive violence, with a further 12,520 people injured. Of the total killed and injured, 510 were children. 

The highest number of civilians killed by explosive violence in the past two years was in Afghanistan – with 2,555 people killed and 4,809 injured. Of these, 46 were children. This was followed by Syria – with 2,167 deaths and 4,530 injured. Of these, 397 were children. 

Incidents include the May bomb attacks across minibuses and mosques in Afghanistan that killed 16 people earlier this year. Last autumn, 14 people were killed by a bomb attack in Damascus, Syria, where civil war has raged for more than a decade. 

The ongoing and often ignored conflicts in Yemen and Ethiopia have also led to hundreds of civilians losing their lives as a result of explosive violence.

Yemen – which has been the setting of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia since 2014 and, until recently, was considered to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world – has seen 797 people killed and 1,596 injured, including 38 children since the start of 2020. In Ethiopia, the figures were 628 killed and 658 injured, of which one was a girl. 

The rates of deaths from explosive violence were lower in Iran (190); Iraq (343) and Sudan (42). However, all three countries are considered unsafe to travel to by the UK Government.

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The Political Response

The Byline Intelligence Team‘s investigation comes after the Ministry of Defence recorded 14 boats crossing the British Channel on Monday – bringing 696 migrant people, a record for the year so far. 

More than 17,000 people have arrived in the UK in small boats in 2022 – exceeding the total for the same period last year, suggesting that the Government’s deterrence policies are not having an effect in preventing people from making the dangerous journey. 

The majority of people arriving into the UK across the Channel, according to the latest Government immigration statistics, came from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, Albania and Sudan. Data from November 2021, published by the Refugee Council, also recorded that between January 2020 and May 2021, there were 271 arrivals from Yemen, and 151 from Ethiopia.

While in 2018 and 2019, a clear majority of people arriving via the Channel were from Iran – 80% and 66% respectively – more recently the spread of countries has been more even. In 2021, Iranians made up 30% of arrivals, while 21% were Iraqis, and 9% Syrians.

That year, 11% of those crossing the Channel were from Eritrea, however AOAV data was not available for this country. Between January 2020 and May 2021, 961 people from Vietnam and 571 from Kuwait crossed the Channel but similarly, data was not available.

Both of the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have committed to maintaining a ‘hostile environment’ for immigration – including by saying they would expand a controversial plan to deport those who arrive via the Channel to Rwanda where they can claim asylum.

Those granted asylum will then be expected to remain in the east African country and would have no safe, legal route back to the UK. This is despite the fact that most people arriving into the UK to claim asylum have no links to Rwanda and are more likely to come from the Middle East or East Asia. 

The Rwanda scheme has been implemented despite the vast majority of those who attempt the Channel crossing later being given asylum in the UK.

Government data from the first quarter of this year found that 90% of Afghan people were granted asylum; as were 88% of Iranians; 97% of Syrians; 97% of Eritreans and 92% of Sudanese people. The lowest grant rate was for Iraqis, at 48%. 


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The Afghanistan Impact

The number of Afghan people attempting the Channel crossing has risen considerably since the Taliban’s takeover of the country last August.

In the first quarter of this year, 25% of crossings were made by Afghan people seeking asylum in the UK, according to analysis by the NGO Freedom from Torture. Between 1 January 2020 and 30 May 2021, they made up just 5.4% of arrivals (666).

The uptick in numbers of people from Afghanistan entering the UK via this irregular route is in part a response to the lack of safe and legal routes open to vulnerable Afghan people who are suffering persecution and threats from the Taliban – as well as ordinary families struggling to survive in an economic crisis that is leading to widespread malnutrition and suffering. 

The UK Government has opened three pathways on its Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

The first was to resettle those evacuated or eligible for evacuation under Operation Pitting last August.

The second, which launched in June, resettles up to 2,000 Afghan citizens referred by the UNHCR.

The third, also launched in June, is currently prioritising the resettlement of up to 1,5000 eligible, at-risk British Council and GardaWorld contractors and Chevening alumni, and will open to wider groups of Afghans at risk in its second year.

“There is a risk that some Afghans may cross the Channel who could have come under resettlement schemes,” said Zehra Zaidi, co-founder of Action for Afghanistan. “But there are no schemes open to some categories of vulnerable people, or for at-risk groups the wait may be another two years, and they may not feel that they have two, three or more years to wait under draconian Taliban rule without placing them and their families even more at risk.

“So we need clarity on the ACRS and clearly defined legal routes to reduce the crossings, and to increase the clarity for deeply vulnerable groups.”

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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