Facts about Channel crossings and why people make them

There are a lot of misconceptions about why men, women and children risk their lives crossing the Channel in the hopes of finding safety in the UK. Here are the facts

We know from our experience in supporting displaced people here in the UK and all over the world, that refugee journeys are filled with risk and danger. It can often be many years after fleeing their homes before people are able to feel safe again.

There are a lot of factors that contribute towards a feeling of safety, many of which may influence someone fleeing to the UK. Sometimes people are trying to come to the UK to reunite with family they’ve been battling to find for years. Sometimes people can’t access asylum systems in other countries. People who can speak English find coming to the UK will give them the best possible chance of rebuilding their lives. Everyone’s story is different.

Despite the UK’s proud history of supporting refugees, the British Government has recently made big changes to the asylum system and is planning more this year. Under the Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, those who arrive in an ‘unofficial’ way, such as by crossing the Channel, will no longer be given protection, but will instead face detention and the risk of destitution.

This is alongside other changes, including outsourcing the UK’s asylum obligations to other countries like Rwanda. As the UK’s biggest independent provider of refugee services in the country, the British Red Cross helps over 30,000 people in the UK at all stages of the asylum process every year.

We believe that every refugee matters, and that whatever the reason behind someone ending up in the UK to seek asylum, they must be treated with dignity and humanity. Refugees have experienced the worst challenges in life – but together, we can show the very best of humankind.

There are a lot of misconceptions about why people risk their lives to cross the Channel in the hopes of finding safety in the UK. Read on to learn about some of the reasons people may make the journey…

Joining family already in the UK

Many people cross the English Channel in the hopes of finding and joining family who have already made it to the UK. Often people are separated from their loved ones as they flee their homes or on their journey in search of safety, which can take many years.

If you think about where you might go if your home was being bombed or your life was at risk because of persecution, it would probably be somewhere where you know someone. We would all want to be able to hug and hold our family again after experiencing such horrors.


Knowing some of the language

As of last year, around one in 77 of the world’s population has been forced to flee their homes. That’s around 103 million people. Most people – 74 per cent – have fled to neighbouring or developing countries. But there are many reasons a person might travel onwards.

Speaking English can often come with cultural familiarity with the UK, for example from watching British TV or learning about the UK at schools.

Knowing some of the language gives women, men, and children the best possible chance of rebuilding their lives. It is much easier for people to make friends, volunteer, study at school, book doctors’ appointments, and navigate the complex legal process of claiming asylum if they have some familiarity with the language.

Refugees have had to leave everything – homes, jobs, and family – behind. It’s understandable they would seek out something familiar that would help them feel safe.

People smugglers dictate journeys

Some refugees are forced to rely on smugglers to get them to a safe country. This is all too often because there are no official routes for people to seek asylum in the UK.

People who have faced persecution by their government or community often need to leave in secrecy also.

This forces people to put their life in the hands of smugglers and be taken from place to place, often without knowing where they are.

Under new government plans, these people will be unable to claim asylum because of the way they arrived, when they may have had no choice. This will leave them in a state of limbo, unable to rebuild their lives here and very unlikely to be able to return home.

We want to see a kinder and more compassionate way to support refugees. We’re calling for you to stand with us by signing our pledge.


Understand more about the asylum process

Learn about the asylum process and the people seeking safety in the UK.

Behind the headlines

Learn more about the lives and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers.