ESRC Project Grant, Channel Crossings: Irregular migration, policies and politics in the English Channel £585,000


This project is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, University of Nottingham, University of Liverpool, and University of York. Lucy Mayblin is a Co-I based at Sheffield.

In recent years increasing numbers of people have crossed the English Channel in small boats. They have done so principally in order to claim asylum in the United Kingdom, with 98% doing so upon arrival. These journeys have profound implications for those who take them, as well as far reaching political implications. They have created a media-storm and a political crisis, leading to a series of reactive policy interventions being planned, delayed and shelved; these include plans for nets or flotillas to be erected in the Channel to prevent irregular sea crossings, for asylum seekers to be put in detention on disused ferries, and building asylum processing centres in overseas territories. Increased Channel crossings in recent years have also led to the enhanced militarisation of the English Channel. The deployment of drones, coastal patrols and warships were matched by the deployment of a militarised discourse, in which 'unwanted' asylum seekers were portrayed as an invading force rather than potentially vulnerable people fleeing conflict or poverty. 

While there is a large body of research focussing on informal camps in Calais and the motivations of, and challenges faced by, those who find themselves there (Including work by the project team), there has been no systematic analysis of the British role in, and response to, those who manage to make or attempt a journey across the Channel. Our study will fill this gap. It will examine the phenomenon of irregular Channel crossings and British responses to them. We advance the concept of border filtration in dialogue with postcolonial theory in order to situate policy responses in broader, historically emergent and racialised logics. We will examine the changing response to irregular Channel crossings as evidenced by policy responses and guidance at the national level. We will also explore civil society responses and the experiences of Channel crossers themselves. Across the project we will integrate different types of knowledge and work closely with NGOs, migrants and policy makers to inform strategies for more sustainable responses.