NEW DELHI: Indians are now the second largest group of migrants, after Afghans, crossing into the UK over the English Channel on risky small boats, The Wire said on Sunday, quoting the UK Home Office.

British newspapers have given details of the upsurge. According to the data, 675 Indian nationals entered the country by small boat between January and March, amid a “surge in attempts to evade work visa restrictions”, The Daily Mail has reported.

“In contrast, during the first three months of this year the number of Albanians — earlier the [second-largest group] reaching Britain by small boat — fell to 29, compared with 1,100 in the previous quarter. This appeared to reflect official predictions that Albanian numbers would drop off over winter and resume this spring,” the report continued.

A source from the Home Office said, “There’s been an unexplained spike in Indian nationals arriving here by small boat in the last few months. We believe they are attempting to dodge visa checks and are coming here to work illegally in the underground economy.”

Officials from Britain are “taken aback by the sudden rise in the number of Indians looking to take their chances in small boats”, as reported by The Telegraph.

Earlier this year, in January, as per UK Home Office, about 250 Indian migrants entered the UK, outnumbering the 233 who arrived via small boats in the first nine months of last year. Indians often entered Britain lawfully up until last year, but many subsequently overstayed their visas.

This year, Indians have come in just behind Afghans, who form 24 per cent of the people making the perilous sea journey from the European mainland.

Afghans made up the largest nationality group in the first quarter with 909.

In recent months, The Wire said, there has been a surge in the number of Indian nationals attempting to make the crossing, with many reportedly paying smugglers exorbitant fees to help them reach the UK. Although some have succeeded, others have been intercepted by authorities and detained or deported.

The majority of undocumented Indian immigrants have historically been young people from places like Punjab and Haryana who are unskilled or semi-skilled and seeking higher pay, as per The Telegraph. However, earlier in a report by the newspaper, the Indian government had warned the British government that a crackdown on separatist activity in (Indian) Punjab was to blame for the unexpected increase in persons from this nation trying to enter unlawfully.

The Indian government has not made any public statements, and the British Home Office claimed it lacked the evidence necessary to determine whether this is truly the case.

Other causes for the unexpected increase in Indians crossing the English Channel include their discovery of entrance ports in nations in Eastern Europe where obtaining legal visas is simpler. To get to the French shore from there, they go a long way and via several European countries. It is 22 miles from France across the English Channel at its narrowest point.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2023

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