Indians now make up the second-biggest cohort of Channel migrants: 675 Indians arrived in small boats in the first three months of this year, according to Home Office figures. This amounts to almost a fifth of the total 3,793 crossings made in the first quarter of this year. The number represents a stark rise: only 683 Indians made the journey in the whole of last year. Albanians, yes, Afghans and Iraqis possibly – but the revelation that so many from India are making the dangerous crossing to England has taken many by surprise.
The Indian government insists that the growth in emigration is linked to a rise in Sikhs fleeing the country because of a crackdown on the separatist movement in the state of Punjab. Lawyers acting for some migrants have previously claimed the surge in undocumented Indian migration is linked to the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP, and the sectarian violence it has inspired. There is no hard evidence to back either claim. More likely is that the increase is due to work opportunities in the UK. The gig economy, in particular the food delivery business, is notorious for its use of illegal migrant workers.
On the southern border of the United States, a similar story is unfolding: after migrants from Latin America, more Indians were detained last year for attempted illegal entry than citizens of any other country. A record 16,000 Indians were caught by the border patrol in 2022, a huge increase from just a decade earlier when only 77 were detained.
So what’s really going on? This isn’t quite the traditional story of people fleeing war, violence or political persecution. Many of the latest cohort of Indian migrants face no significant threat to their safety or liberty, nor are they necessarily the poorest or most destitute of people desperate to make their way to Europe or the United States.