THere are the Home Office statistics and then the Home Office press releases. And the gulf between the two is often so great that even the most resourceful migrant would struggle to find a way to navigate from one to the other.
Last week the latest set of immigration statistics arrived, a comprehensive dataset for the year to June 2022. It’s a gold mine for researchers and a nightmare for Home Office propagandists.
Take the recent panic over Albanians, for example. It started with an article in the Daily Mail, which relies on a “secret military intelligence report” and claims that 40% of migrants crossing the English Channel were Albanian. radio 4 today Thursday’s program claimed that “government officials believe the majority” of the people who arrived on small boats were from Albania, a claim no doubt presented as fact. On the same day, the Interior Ministry announced an agreement with Tirana to “expedite” the deportation of Albanians who appear not to need asylum because they come from a “safe and prosperous nation”.
The statistics speak a different language. The number of Albanians crossing the Channel has certainly increased, but in the first six months of this year it was around 17% of the total. It’s possible the numbers have changed dramatically since late June, but we have little evidence of that other than unconfirmed Interior Ministry sources and a classified military intelligence document.
The data also refutes the claim that Albanians do not need asylum because they come from a “safe” country. In the year ended this June, 53% of Albanian applicants were granted asylum or other residency in the country on a first-decision basis, and a higher proportion on appeal. Between January and June of this year, that was 385 people; less than half of that number was officially rejected. What will happen to the majority of Albanians who might otherwise have been granted asylum if placed on a “fast track” deportation lane, no one will say.
The data also refutes Priti Patel’s claim that most asylum claims are false and that “70% of people who cross the English Channel…are economic migrants”. In the year that ended in June, three quarters of all asylum seekers were successful. Half of those who appealed rejections were also successful, bringing the overall success rate to almost 90%.
What about migrants from the English Channel? Of all migrants who have arrived on small boats since 2018, 82% are still awaiting a decision on their asylum application. It shows how sclerotic the home office process is; That’s not just because of the higher numbers – although the numbers have gone up, they’re still below the numbers of the early ’00s – but because it’s a system that seems almost designed to be glacially slow .
Of the fewer than one in five whose cases received a decision, 49% were successful. Only 8% of the applications were rejected. And the rest? The government refused to make a decision, assuming they were from a “safe” country. But given that the majority of Albanians originating from a supposedly “safe” country are granted asylum, one might think that a large proportion of those whose applications the Interior Ministry failed to consider have been successful even in a less ideologically motivated system.
The figures also challenge the claim that there is no need for unauthorized travel to the UK. In 2018, only three Afghans – 1% of arrivals – crossed the English Channel by boat. In the first six months of this year, that number had risen to 2,066 — about 16% of the total. The main reason, of course, is the Taliban’s takeover of power a year ago.
There are said to be two official routes for Afghan asylum seekers. Why do so many arrive by boat from Calais? Because under the eyes of the Taliban, not only is it murderously difficult to apply for a visa, but even those considered to be the most deserving are often denied asylum. Last week surfaced the story of a former Afghan judge who had jailed dozens of Taliban fighters, many of whom have been released from prison since the Taliban victory and many of whom are now in government. She is hiding with her son for fear of her life. She has family in the UK. Despite this, the Ministry of the Interior rejected her application for asylum. It’s almost as if the government wants Afghans to trust people smugglers to help them make the dangerous journey to Calais and then board a rubber dinghy.
Britain is also granting asylum status to many Rwandan refugees — at least seven so far this year. So while the government has signed an agreement with Rwanda on the mass deportation of unauthorized migrants, insist While being a “safe and prosperous” nation, it recognizes that the country is unsafe enough to force people to flee and grant them asylum.
Home Office statistics reveal the hollowness, even mendacity, of Home Office propaganda. Alone, however, they will not change anyone’s mind. This is not because people are irrational or indifferent to facts, but because facts are always understood within a certain framework, as part of a narrative or story. And the story about asylum seekers, which has become almost wisdom, says that most, especially those coming through the channel, are scammers who stand in line and deserve to be jailed and deported.
Not only do the stats help debunk this home office myth, but they point to another story. They show that there is no “queue” to jump; that the real problem is Britain’s refusal to open legal avenues, even for those whose lives are in mortal danger and to whom Britain owes a moral obligation; that those who cross the Channel on small boats are mostly real refugees forced to make the journey because of the intransigence of the Home Office; that the policy of mass deportation of unauthorized migrants is dangerous and immoral.
That’s the story we have to tell. And the statistics provide the raw material from which to weave this different narrative, one that is not only more truthful but also more human.
Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist