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Majority of English Channel Migrants Fleeing Armed Violence, Study Reveals

Well over half the recent migrants come from the top 15 countries globally hardest hit by explosive weaponry

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

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As the UK Government’s attempt to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is deemed unlawful by the Court of Appeal, a study conducted for Byline Times by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) reveals that 63% of migrants attempting to cross the English Channel in the first three months of 2023, came from the top 15 countries globally hardest hit by explosive weaponry in 2022. 

The court judgement in Rwanda, handed down today in London, was based on a lack of adequate safeguards to classify the landlocked African nation as a “safe third country,” and the potential risk of asylum seekers being involuntarily returned to their original, often conflict-ridden, countries.

Whilst the court order was issued in relation to what might happen to migrants sent to Rwanda, the new data seen by Byline Times, collated by the London research group AOAV, shows the extent of the harm many of those migrants recorded on the channel in small boats have been fleeing.

In the first quarter of 2023, the Home Office’s provisional ‘Statistics relating to the Illegal Migration Bill,’ recorded 3,793 migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats. Among these, the majority originated from five countries: Afghanistan (24% or 909), India (18% or 675), Iran (14% or 524), Iraq (9% or 345), and Syria (8% or 286). 

Notably, Afghanistan and Syria, the top two nationalities of these migrants, were also the second and third most afflicted nations in terms of civilian harm from explosive weapons in 2022, following Ukraine. Meanwhile, Iraq and India were ranked seventh and eleventh respectively in terms of countries worldwide where civilians were most impacted by explosive violence.

Overall, of the twenty-five nations from which migrants coming into the UK on small boats were identified, eight nations were among the ten countries most impacted by explosive weapons in 2022. 

Despite so many nationals fleeing explosive harm, only Ukrainians have successfully established a ‘bespoke humanitarian route’ to the UK, a term coined by then Home Secretary Priti Patel. This route is only open for Ukrainian migrants, leaving civilians from countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen without similar recourse to safe passage. 

The Court ruling on Rwanda was welcomed by organisations like Asylum Aid, which view it as a testament to the crucial role of legal principles and fairness. The Rwandan administration has challenged this decision.

Initially part of a broader strategy to deter illegal immigration across the English Channel, the UK government’s plan to transfer asylum seekers to Rwanda was put on hold due to a legal challenge in 2022. While the High Court initially supported the policy, the Court of Appeal ruling today was that the policy would violate Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, safeguarding against torture, unless Rwanda can convincingly address the gaps in its asylum procedures.

Charities have said this ruling underlines the need for the UK to consider a more comprehensive, non-discriminatory, and legally-sound approach to managing migration crises, respecting international law and human rights. The data regarding the explosive violence threats migrants are fleeing from underpins this need.

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