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63% of small boat migrants in Q1 2023 come from countries most impacted by global explosive violence in 2022

Of the 3,793 migrants detected crossing the English channel in small boats, 63% (2,380) come from countries which were among the fifteen globally worst impacted for civilian casualties from the use of explosive weapons in 2022, new data analysis by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) can reveal. 

In the first quarter of 2023, the Home Office’s provisional ‘Statistics relating to the Illegal Migration Bill,’ released on April 24, 2023, 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 sources 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, contributing a significant number of migrants as well, were ranked seventh and eleventh respectively in terms of countries worldwide where civilians were most impacted by explosive violence.

Civilian casualties of explosive violence in countries from which migrants were detected crossing the English Channel in Q1 2023.

Of the 25 countries and territories represented among the detected migrants, eight are among the ten worse impacted countries for civilian casualties of explosive weapons use in 2022. However, of these countries impacted by explosive violence only Ukrainians have a realistic and successful ‘bespoke humanitarian route’ to the UK.

CountryIncidentsCivilian casualties
Burkina Faso15173
15 most impacted countries for civilian casualties of explosive weapon use in 2022.

A ‘bespoke humanitarian route’ is how Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has referred to UK policies towards Ukrainian migration since the Russian invasion. The same language was used to refer to the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, announced in August 2021, and could imaginably be applied to other UK policies addressing specific conflicts, including the resettlement programme for Syrian refugees, completed in 2021, and the scheme to provide visas for Hong Kong residents with British National Overseas (BNO) status. 

However, “the Ukrainian route illustrates a broader trend in recent UK asylum and refugee policy: the government selecting and differentiating between refugees from different conflicts or parts of the world” (Migration Observatory, University of Oxford). 

The Ukrainian schemes are free to apply for, and open to any Ukrainians with either a sponsor (an individual or civil society organisation) or a family member who are British citizens or settled residents. The visas are also free to apply for, and give holders the right to work, study, and claim benefits in the UK for up to three years, but they do not provide a path to permanent residence.

While the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme is also free, and offers immediate settlement, it cannot be applied for, and there is no legal route to travel to the UK to seek protection under the scheme. Furthermore, the numbers are highly limiting –  the government aims to resettle 20,000 over a few years, with a target of 5,000 in the first year. For this reason “the scheme is not a realistic option for the estimated three million Afghans outside Afghanistan, or the many who are internally displaced within the country.” (Migration Observatory, University of Oxford).

In 2022, Ukraine accounted for 43% (1,854) of the 4,323 recorded incidents of explosive weapon use, and 50% (10,351) of the 20,793 civilians killed and injured. The countries and territories from which small boat migrants in the first quarter of 2023 came accounted for 65% (6,820) of the remaining 10,442 civilian casualties from explosive weapons use in 2022. In particular, Afghanistan accounted for 13% of civilians killed and injured outside of Ukraine, Syria for 12%, and Ethiopia for 11%. 

2022 was the most injurious year for civilians in Ethiopia since AOAV started recording. On average, between 2011 and 2021 AOAV has recorded 120 civilian casualties from explosive weapons use a year in Ethiopia, compared to the 1,138 civilians harmed in 2022. Similarly, last year, both Iraq and Pakistan saw the highest level of civilian harm recorded since 2018. In Iraq, civilian casualties of explosive violence increased by 43% from 620 in 2021 to 885 in 2022, and in Pakistan the total number of civilian casualties of explosive violence in the country increased by 62% to 721.

Despite a significant drop in civilian casualties recorded in Afghanistan in 2022, from 3,051 the previous year to 1,314 – a 57% decrease – the country remained the second most impacted for civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence last year. However, the proportion of casualties of explosive weapons use that were reported as civilians increased significantly, with civilians representing 92% of all casualties recorded in 2022, compared to 55% in 2021. Of note, the average number of civilians harmed per IED attack in Afghanistan spiked over the past year, rising by 106% from 8 to 16.5. While IED attacks may have decreased in 2022 compared to 2021, they were much more injurious.

The success of the UK’s ‘bespoke humanitarian route’ for Ukrainians is likely to thank for the absence of Ukrainians detected among small boat migrants crossing the English Channel in 2023. It’s a shame civilians from other violent and protracted conflicts have not benefited from being selected by the government – in particular civilians from Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, where British Armed Forces and British explosive weapons have been part and parcel of the crises driving migration.

Find AOAV’s full analysis of global explosive violence in 2022 here.