Update (20 December 2022): Since publishing this article and a subsequent update, Full Fact has received further statistics from the Home Office through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request which shows that Ms Patel’s claim was incorrect.
The new data shows that 15,458 people arrived on small boats between 1 June and 31 August, 6,872 (44%) of whom identified as Albanian. And while we don’t know exactly what definition of summer Ms Patel was using when she made the claim, we can't see any breakdown of the figures provided which makes her claim correct.
In light of this, we have written to the former home secretary to ask her to make an official correction.
When we initially wrote this fact check, Home Office officials told us there had been days in the summer when the number of Albanian nationals crossing the Channel in small boats exceeded 60% of the total number of small boat arrivals.
The new FOI data shows there were 10 days between 1 June and 31 August when 60% or more of small boat arrivals identified as Albanian, and another four days in this period when the percentage of small boat arrivals who identified as Albanian could be rounded up to 60%.
The rest of this article reflects the information available as of 4 November and has not been updated with the new FOI data.
Over the summer the majority of arrivals in small boats from France—about 60%—have been Albanian nationals.
The statistic that around 60% of people arriving in the UK on small boats this summer were Albanian has been repeated a number of times in the media over the past few weeks.
However, while the Home Office has said the figure is correct for certain days during the summer, it has not confirmed whether it is true over the summer in general, as suggested by Priti Patel when she was still home secretary in early September.
We can’t currently verify the figure as the Home Office hasn’t published any data which backs it up. Further data on small boat crossings is due to be published in November, though it remains unclear whether it will be presented in a form which allows Ms Patel’s claim to be verified.
Following the initial publication of this article, in early November the Home Office published further statistics which showed that “there has been a significant increase in the number of Albanians crossing the channel on small boats”, but this release does not substantiate Ms Patel’s claim.
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What was claimed
The figure was reported as early as 25 August in the Telegraph, which claimed that “between half and 60 per cent of the Channel migrants arriving in small boats are now Albanian”, and backed up the figure by adding: “An estimated 700—or 60 per cent—of the daily record of 1,295 migrants who reached the UK on Monday were from the Balkan state.”
The 60% figure was then used by then-home secretary Priti Patel in Parliament on 5 September, though rather than specifying it related to one or more specific days, she told MPs: “[Philip Hollobone MP] is correct that over the summer the majority of arrivals in small boats from France—about 60%—have been Albanian nationals.”We’ve seen the figure cited elsewhere too. On 24 September, an article in The Times said “about 60 per cent of daily crossings are Albanian, according to Home Office officials”, adding that “it has been estimated that more than 9,000 Albanians have arrived in the past three months”.
And on 5 October the Express published a column which said: “Up to 60 percent of illegal migrants crossing the Channel are from Albania—not a land ravaged by war or famine—and many of them come straight out of their jails." The author of the column told us this was based on the Telegraph’s reporting.
What does the Home Office say?
When asked to confirm the figure in The Times’s report, the Home Office initially pointed Full Fact towards Ms Patel’s statement in Parliament. But it later told Full Fact that the then-home secretary had been referring to provisional operational data and that there were days in the summer when the proportion of small boat arrivals who were Albanian nationals exceeded 60%.
This is more in line with the Telegraph’s original reporting, but potentially different to Ms Patel’s claim in Parliament that 60% of small boat arrivals “over the summer” were Albanian.
We contacted the Home Office again, asking whether Ms Patel had given a misleading impression of the statistics, but the department declined to comment further.
It did tell us that the next quarter’s data on small boat crossings, which will cover some of the summer, is due to be published on 24 November.
Previous versions of this data release show the number of Albanians who crossed the Channel each quarter, with the November release expected to cover the quarter from July to September 2022. That should allow us to verify how the proportion of small boat arrivals from Albania has changed since earlier in 2022.
However if the data, as in previous releases, cannot be broken down by individual month or day, it may still be insufficient to verify that either “over the summer”, or on certain days during summer, 60% of small boat arrivals were Albanian.
After this article was published, and ahead of this statistical release, the Home Office published ad-hoc information on 2 November which says “from May to September 2022 Albanian nationals alone comprised 42% of small boat crossings, with 11,102 Albanians arriving by small boat in those five months”.
This does show a significant increase in the number of Albanian nationals reaching the UK in small boats, but it doesn’t substantiate Ms Patel’s claim that 60% of arrivals over the summer were Albanian nationals.
The release also states: “In some weeks over the summer, more than half of small boat arrivals claimed to be Albanian.” This mirrors what we were told previously by the Home Office, but again does not substantiate Ms Patel’s claim.
The government’s latest full statistical release on irregular migration, which currently only covers the period until June 2022, shows that in the first six months of 2022 people from Albania represented almost 17% of the total 12,747 people who arrived by small boat—the largest group by nationality.
The government is expected to make sure the statistics it uses are accessible
This seems to fall short of how the government is expected to use statistics and data.
As the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) recently said in its guidelines for transparency (which build on the principles set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics): “Data quoted publicly, for example in Parliament or the media, should be made available to all in a transparent way”.
The guidelines go on to state: “Organisations should seek to comply with the principles set out in the Code of Practice when making public statements that refer to data, regardless of the status of the data.”
This appears to suggest that the same expectations apply to all data, whether official statistics published regularly by the government or provisional operational data that isn’t routinely released.
The guidelines specifically include the expectations that “data to support any public statement should be published in advance or at the same time as the statement is made” and “where unpublished data are referred to unexpectedly, the information should be published as soon as possible after any statement has been made”.
Full Fact has not found any evidence that the Home Office subsequently published data confirming that 60% of people crossing the Channel in small boats over the summer were Albanian.
We’ve contacted the OSR and Ms Patel, and will update this article should they respond.
Image courtesy of Alamy