No published data to support minister’s claim about migrants saying they’re under 18

22 November 2022
What was claimed

At times up to 20% of adult men arriving at the Western Jet Foil asylum processing centre in Dover claim to be under 18.

Our verdict

There is no published data to support this claim. The Home Office told us it was based on provisional operational data, which has not been made public. The Office for Statistics Regulation has written to the Home Office about its use of the statistic.

At times, up to 20% of the adult males who arrive at Western Jet Foil [asylum processing centre] claim to be under 18, when clearly the number is substantially less than that.

Fifth of Albanian adult male migrants falsely claim to be children

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick claimed in Parliament earlier this month that, at times, up to a fifth of adult men who arrived at an asylum processing centre in Dover were saying that they were under 18. 

He told MPs in the House of Commons: “At times, up to 20% of the adult males who arrive at Western Jet Foil [a major asylum processing centre handling many small boat arrivals] claim to be under 18, when clearly the number is substantially less than that.”

We can’t currently verify this figure as the Home Office hasn’t published any data to back it up. 

Mr Jenrick’s comments are the latest example of the government referring to unpublished data on immigration. Last month we wrote about the previous home secretary, Priti Patel, relying on unpublished data on the nationality of small boat arrivals. 

We’ve raised both claims with the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), and on 21 November its director general, Ed Humpherson, wrote to Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary for the Home Office, to highlight the importance of transparency of statistics. 

In the letter, Mr Humpherson wrote: “Given the continued public interest in and use of immigration statistics, I urge the Home Office to review ways of working to ensure that the transparent release and use of Home Office data and statistics is the default in future.”

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No published evidence for Mr Jenrick’s claim

We’ve not been able to find any published Home Office statistics that can substantiate Mr Jenrick’s claim, and the OSR also noted in its letter that the figures “have not yet been published”.

Statistics on age dispute cases are published, but these are not broken down by gender, method of arrival or processing facility, so we cannot tell if the cases were adult men, small boat arrivals or asylum seekers arriving at Western Jet Foil. An “age disputed person” is an individual seeking permission to stay in the UK who, in the view of a Home Office or local authority official, does not have sufficient evidence to prove their age. 

When we asked the Home Office if it planned to publish the figures cited by Mr Jenrick—as it is expected to do when ministers make claims using unpublished data—officials did not directly respond. 

The Home Office instead told us Mr Jenrick’s claim was based on provisional operational data, and said new statistics on irregular migration—which track the number of small boat arrivals—would be published on 24 November . 

While this is true, these statistics are unlikely to be able to confirm whether or not Mr Jenrick’s claim was accurate. Released quarterly, the irregular migration data shows us how many people each year since 2018 have entered the UK “irregularly”—such as those who arrived by small boat, those detected at ports (in shipping containers, for example) or by air with inadequate documentation. 

It breaks these arrivals down by method of entry, by month, by nationality and by age. However, these categories are kept separate, so it is not possible from the data to see, for example, how many men from Afghanistan between the ages of 18 and 24 arrived by small boat in September. 

The most recent statistics show that in the first six months of 2022, there were 1,866 small boat arrivals (of all nationalities, at all processing centres) who were recorded as being under 18, out of 12,747 total small boat arrivals. Of those 1,866, 1,365 were male. This means around 10% of small boat arrivals so far this year have been males recorded as under 18, while around 15% of all small boat arrivals—men and women—were recorded as under 18. 

A further 999 people who arrived on small boats in this period had not yet had their age and gender recorded in the data.

Unevidenced media claims about Albanian migrants

The minister’s claim also appears to have contributed to further unevidenced claims about Albanian migrants. The day after Mr Jenrick’s claim, the Telegraph published an article headlined: “Fifth of Albanian adult male migrants falsely claim to be children”. The only source mentioned for this claim in the article was Mr Jenrick’s comment in the House of Commons. 

The article states in its first line: “As many as 2,000 Albanian adult male migrants have claimed to be children to boost their chances of avoiding deportation.” 

Full Fact asked the Telegraph what this figure was based on, and did not receive a response. But from the evidence included in the article, it appears to have been extrapolated from the existing statistics on the number of Albanian nationals who arrived in the UK by small boat over the summer. On 2 November the Home Office published information which said that between May and September 2022, 11,102 Albanians arrived by small boat. 

However, we’ve not seen any data to directly support the claim that a fifth of male Albanian nationals arriving by small boat were claiming to be under 18. When we asked the Home Office about this, officials said Mr Jenrick had been describing people of all nationalities arriving on small boats—not just Albanians. 

The release published by the Home Office on 2 November stated that between May and September 2022, Albanians comprised 42% of all small boat arrivals. 

OSR calls for greater transparency on Home Office statistics

In his letter to Mr Rycroft, Mr Humpherson also raised the claim made by Priti Patel in September that “over the summer the majority of arrivals in small boats from France—about 60%—have been Albanian nationals”. 

Full Fact contacted the OSR about this claim after it emerged that this claim was not based on published data and the Home Office was unable to provide additional information to confirm it. 

You can read more about this claim, which remains unsupported by official statistics, in our fact check here

Alongside Mr Jenrick and Ms Patel’s claims, Mr Humpherson’s letter also raised concerns about unpublished statistics being used by the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who claimed during Prime Minister’s Questions on 2 November that the government had increased the number of asylum processing officials by 80%. Although we’ve not fact checked this specific claim, the OSR said statistics to support it had not yet been published.

The Home Office has not yet provided an official response to the OSR, but is understood to have received its letter and be planning to reply in due course.

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we asked Robert Jenrick for a correction regarding this claim. 

He is yet to respond. 

We contacted the Home Office to request that this data is published. 

We also made the OSR aware of this issue and the OSR's Director General for Regulation subsequently wrote to the Home Office about this.

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