The vast majority of people coming across the Channel are economic migrants, they are not asylum seekers. The vast majority are men between the ages of 18 and 40 coming from Iraq and Iran primarily.
Conservative MP Scott Benton recently claimed during an appearance on the BBC’s Politics Live programme that the “vast majority of people coming across the Channel are economic migrants”.
A similar claim was previously made by Home Secretary Priti Patel in November.
Mr Benton added: “The vast majority are men between the ages of 18 and 40 coming from Iraq and Iran primarily.”
While it is true that people from Iran and Iraq, as well as young men, are most represented in the statistics on small boat crossings, there is no evidence most are economic migrants, Research shows that the majority of people, irrespective of arrival method, from the top 10 most-represented countries crossing the Channel are granted asylum—indicating that they are not economic migrants—although data on asylum decisions by nationality and method of arrival to the UK is not published by the Home Office.
Research suggests ‘vast majority’ are not economic migrants
An economic migrant is someone who has left their country of origin in order to seek a material improvement to their lives. An asylum seeker is a person who claims to have left their country to seek protection from persecution and serious human rights violations, but hasn’t yet been recognised as a refugee.
The Home Office doesn’t publish a breakdown of asylum decisions by method of arrival into the UK.
However, research carried out by the Refugee Council, covering the period between January 2020 and June 2021, found that for people, irrespective of arrival method, coming from the top 10 countries of origin arriving by small boat, 61% of initial asylum decisions would have resulted in refugee protection being granted. This compares to a grant rate of 52% on initial decisions for people across all nationalities.
The Refugee Council calculated these figures using quarterly statistics published by the Home Office, which detail initial decisions by nationality.
A spokesperson for the Refugee Council clarified: “As the vast majority of those making Channel crossings (91%) in that period [January 2020 and June 2021] came from those ten countries, the extrapolation is that those crossing the Channel are more likely to be granted asylum than the average across the whole system.”
Applicants can appeal if they are not granted protection status during the initial decision. The Refugee Council’s research shows that 59% of appeals made by people from the top 10 countries of origin for small boat crossings were allowed, compared to 46% for all nationalities in the same time period.
The Refugee Council says: “An allowed appeal is one where the initial refusal is overturned and the judge replaces the decision (most commonly with a decision to grant a form of status).”
This shows that the majority of people crossing the Channel in small boats are likely to have a genuine claim to refugee protection and are unlikely to be economic migrants.
The rate at which people of different nationalities are granted protection does vary widely. To use Mr Benton’s example of Iran and Iraq—over the time period monitored by the Refugee Council, 67% of people from Iran who arrived into the UK were granted protection at the initial decision stage. Of those who were refused, 59% went on to be granted protection at appeal.
This compares to 28% of people from Iraq being granted protection at the initial decision stage, while 40% of those refused had their subsequent appeal allowed.
We could not find any figures to suggest that the majority of people crossing the Channel in small boats are economic migrants. We have asked Mr Benton if he has the data to support his claim. We contacted his office to ask for more information about his source, but did not receive a response.
Most people crossing Channel in small boats are young men
In February the UK government published statistics on “irregular migration” for the first time, providing data on the number of people crossing the Channel on small boats and their age, nationality and sex.
There is no legal or broadly agreed definition of “irregular migration”, but it is generally used to refer to people who are in the UK without the legal right to be.
Home Office statistics cover people:
- arriving on small boats across the Channel
- arriving by air without adequate documentation
- arriving clandestinely at ports
- detected outside of the controlled environment of ports, having been believed to have entered the UK clandestinely in the previous 72 hours.
As Mr Benton said, the statistics show that in 2021, 19,763 of the 28,526 people (69%) recorded by the Home Office as having arrived on a small boat were men between the ages of 18 and 40.
Iran and Iraq were the two most represented nationalities among people arriving on small boats, accounting for 7,874 (28%) and 5,414 (19%) small boat arrivals respectively in 2021. The next three most-represented countries were Eritrea (2,829), Syria (2,260) and Vietnam (1,401).