Leaked report doesn’t ‘vindicate’ view that most people crossing the Channel on small boats are 'economic migrants'

12 August 2022
What was claimed

Figures from a leaked report showing that 37.5% of small boat arrivals are Albanian vindicates Priti Patel’s view that the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’ and ‘not genuine asylum seekers’.

Our verdict

We have not seen a copy of the leaked report, but the data in it, as presented by the Mail on Sunday, is not sufficient to vindicate this view as it isn’t comprehensive. The Home Office has not published comprehensive data to substantiate this claim, despite requests to do so. The Home Office also declined to comment on the leaked report.

The Mail on Sunday claimed on its front page that a leaked report on small boat crossings, which reportedly found that “4 in 10 migrants are from war-free Albania”, “vindicate[s] Home Secretary Priti Patel’s view that the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’ and ‘not genuine asylum seekers’.” 

While the leaked report does appear to indicate that the number of Albanian people crossing the Channel on small boats has risen significantly, this isn’t sufficient evidence to claim that the majority of people claiming asylum in this way are “effectively economic migrants”. 

Full Fact has not seen a copy of the report itself. We contacted the Home Office to confirm that the document had been reported accurately by the Mail on Sunday, but officials declined to comment. 

The Mail on Sunday did not respond to a request for comment.

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What does the leaked report say? 

An article in the most recent edition of the Mail on Sunday said that its source was “a secret military intelligence report” leaked to the paper. 

The article says that the report found “1,075 Albanians crossed the Channel in small boats organised by the gangs during a six-week period this summer”—37.5% of the total 2,863 who crossed the Channel in boats facilitated by nine smuggling gangs between 1 June and 12 July. 

The article goes on to say: “The total from Albania dwarfed other nationalities. Iranians made up the next highest total, with 373 migrants, or 13 per cent of the total. There were 363 migrants from Afghanistan (12.7 per cent of the total), 217 from Iraq (7.6 per cent), 162 from Syria (5.7 per cent) and 163 from Eritrea (5.7 per cent).” 

It says that these findings “vindicate Home Secretary Priti Patel’s view that the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’ and ‘not genuine asylum seekers’.” 

This appears to paraphrase a claim made by Ms Patel in October, when she told a Lords committee: “In the last year, 70% of individuals on small boats are single men who are effectively economic migrants. They are not genuine asylum seekers.” 

Neither she or the Home Office have ever provided statistics definitively proving this, despite being asked to do so on a number of occasions. 

Are more Albanian people crossing the Channel on small boats? 

The first issue with using this leaked data to make claims about the status of people crossing the Channel is we don’t know how representative it is of small boat arrivals in general.

The reported data covers 2,863 people who crossed the Channel over a period of six weeks, facilitated by nine gangs.

The Home Office publishes its own statistics on the number of people who cross the Channel by small boat each week in total, which show that in the same period 4,265 people crossed the Channel. 

We don’t know if Albanians are overrepresented in the asylum seekers covered in the report. The Mail on Sunday article doesn’t detail whether or not any of the nine gangs are specifically focused on attracting people from specific countries. 

The report’s findings that 37.5% of people crossing the Channel on small boats are Albanian, if representative of asylum seekers crossing the Channel in general, marks a significant increase in the number of people from Albania reaching the UK in this way. The 1,075 Albanian nationals identified in the report over a six week period is much higher than the 757 recorded by the Home Office in the whole of 2021. 

In the first three months of 2022, Albanians were the sixth most-represented nationality of people to reach the UK in this way, representing 6% of the total number of people.

In 2021 and 2020 Albanians made up 3% and 1% of all small boat arrivals respectively.  

Are all Albanians economic migrants? 

The second issue is the suggestion that people from “war-free Albania” are not genuine asylum seekers, when hundreds of Albanians (albeit not the majority) are in fact granted asylum.

The Mail on Sunday article states that “4 in 10 migrants are from Albania, not war torn states”, adding that the leaked report exposes “how the largest proportion of those making illegal crossings appear to be economic migrants abusing Britain’s generous asylum system”. 

There are many different reasons under the 1951 Refugee Convention that someone may qualify for refugee status, not just because they are fleeing war. 

Each year hundreds of people from Albania are granted asylum in the UK, indicating that they are not economic migrants. Analysis of asylum applications after entry to the UK via all methods (not just small boats), published by the Home Office and excluding people who withdrew their applications, shows that in 2012, 46% of applicants were granted protection, 45% in 2013, 45% in 2014, 41% in 2015, 46% in 2016, 42% in 2017, 32%, 17% in 2019 and 3% in 2020 (the most recent year available). 

It’s important to note that the sharp drop in acceptance rates is likely to be impacted by the higher proportion of cases in which the final outcome of the application is not known, due to the application being more recent. Therefore, lower grant rates such as 17% and 3% should not be interpreted as a higher rate of refusals. 

These acceptance rates don’t factor in the hundreds of applicants from Albania (553 in 2018, 393 in 2019 and 187 in 2020) who withdraw their applications. The government does not provide any information on why these applications are withdrawn, but these could include acknowledgement that the application would not be successful, another application for asylum in a third country or what the Home Office calls “implicit” withdrawals such as a failure to complete the required documents.  

If these withdrawals were factored in, the acceptance rates would fall.

In 2021 only a small proportion of Albanian asylum seekers arrived on small boats. Statistics show that last year there were 757 small boat arrivals from Albania, but 4,754 Albanians in total applied for asylum. 

So it’s possible the acceptance rate for Albanians arriving on small boats may be significantly different to the general acceptance rate of Albanians claiming asylum.

But the Home Office doesn’t publish data on acceptance rates broken down by nationality and mode of arrival so we can’t say anything for certain.

Does the report support claims that the majority of small boat arrivals are economic migrants? 

Finally, even if 40% of all people arriving by small boats were Albanian, and even if none of them were granted asylum (neither of which seem likely given the data mentioned above), that still leaves 60% of small boat arrivals which the Mail doesn’t appear to consider when it says the data “vindicate[s] Home Secretary Priti Patel’s view that the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’ and ‘not genuine asylum seekers’.”

As mentioned, we don’t know how many asylum applications from people crossing the Channel are ultimately successful.

But we do know the main nationalities represented among small boat crossings in the first quarter of 2022 were Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians and Eritreans. 

Home Office data shows the final acceptance rate for Afghans, Iranians, Syrians and Eritreans has historically been well over 50%, while for Iraqis it is around 50%. 

This doesn’t prove most small boat arrivals are genuine asylum seekers as opposed to “economic migrants”, but it does suggest the picture is uncertain. 

While the leaked report published by the Mail on Sunday appears to provide new information about current trends in people arriving via small boat, without further information from the government we can’t conclude that the “majority” are economic migrants.

Image courtesy of Partonez

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After we published this fact check, we contacted the Mail on Sunday to request a correction regarding this claim.

The Mail on Sunday did not respond. 

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