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Debunking Asylum Disinformation: The Mail on Sunday and Albanian Migrants

The Byline Intelligence Team dig behind the shocking stats to find the truth about who is crossing the Channel and why. Sascha Lavin and Sian Norris report

A migrant woman arrives in Dover, Kent. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/PA Images

Debunking Asylum Disinformation The Mail on Sunday & Albanian Migrants

The Byline Intelligence Team dig behind the shocking stats to find the truth about who is crossing the Channel and why. Sascha Lavin and Sian Norris report

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A leading newspaper has claimed that nearly half (four in 10) migrant people crossing the Channel to seek asylum in the UK are from Albania – despite Government statistics putting the figure closer to three in 100

The Mail on Sunday article based on a leaked secret military intelligence report obtained by the right-leaning political party Reform UK states that between 1 June and 12 July this year, a total of 1,075 Albanians crossed the Channel in small boats – making up 37.5% of arrivals. 

The Mail on Sunday then goes on to assert that the number of Albanians coming to the UK “vindicates” Home Secretary Priti Patel’s claim that most of those crossing the Channel are economic migrants and not people seeking asylum – writing Albania “is a peaceful country”. 

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan-Smith said in response to the leaked report that “this is proof positive that the threat we face is not an asylum issue, it’s an economic migration issue, which is leading these traffickers to abuse the asylum system. This simply cannot be tolerated”. 

However, an investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team – which takes a longer view of Channel Crossings data – has found that Duncan-Smith and the Mail on Sunday are wrong to claim that the majority of people crossing the Channel are economic migrants. In fact, Government data contradicts both their, and the Home Secretary’s, verdict. 

While there is no reason to doubt the data in the secret military intelligence report obtained by the Mail on Sunday and Reform UK, focusing on six weeks risks being misrepresentative of the dominant patterns when it comes to Channel crossings. 

Further, it may be true that Albania is not at war, but as Europe’s only “narco-state” there are plenty of legitimate reasons for granting people asylum who have fled the country. 

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

Who Crosses the Channel

Government data analysed by the Byline Intelligence Team found that in the calendar year 2021, three in 100 (2.65%) of the people crossing the Channel were Albanian – far fewer than the four in 10 over six weeks quoted by the Mail on Sunday

This figure barely budged over the previous years: between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2021, the total number of Albanians was 840 or 2.15% – compared to around 11,968 people from Iran, 7,556 people from Iraq and 1,889 people from Afghanistan. 

In fact, Albania was behind Iran, Iraq, Eritrea, Syria, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Sudan in the numbers of people making irregular journeys into the UK over the three years. 

The Mail on Sunday found that only 12.7% of those crossing the Channel in the six-week period it examined were from Afghanistan. While this may be the case for June and early July, increasing numbers of people are arriving in the UK via irregular routes from the beleaguered country. In the first quarter of this year, 25% of those attempting the journey were Afghans. 

Steve Crawshaw, at Freedom from Torture, told Byline Times: “The deeply misleading figures in the Mail on Sunday article conceal the reality that the majority of those who have arrived on small boats this year hail from countries like Iran and Afghanistan, whereas even the Government acknowledges, the dangers are obvious and real and from where most asylum applications are successful”.

Ironically the Mail on Sunday notes that 13% of people crossing the Channel in the six-week period analysed are from Iran – another country that is ostensibly peaceful but from where 88% of those who cross the Channel are granted asylum. 

People Crossing Channel from Countries With High Rates of Explosive Violence

Sian Norris

Claiming Asylum

Government statistics show that 51% of Albanian people who cross the Channel are granted asylum – undermining the Mail on Sunday’s claim that the majority are economic migrants and not people in need of humanitarian protection. 

Indeed, the claim that people from Albania must be economic migrants because they are not fleeing war ignores how the asylum system works.

While the Mail is correct to say that Albania is a peaceful country, there are many reasons why someone may claim asylum that goes beyond fleeing conflict. These reasons include facing persecution due to race, religion, nationality or political opinion – as well as “anything else that puts you at risk because of the social, cultural, religious or political situation in your country, for example, your gender, gender identity or sexual orientation”, according to Government guidelines.

“A thorough process for assessing asylum claims already exists and individuals who do not meet the international criteria for protection will be refused,” explains Crawshaw. “This data only reinforces the need for the Government to provide safe routes for those who need them so that individuals in need are not forced to make dangerous journeys to safety”.

Albania has been called Europe’s only “narco-state”, with a generation trapped in a mesh of poverty and corruption that allowed drugs and sex trafficking to flourish. A 2018 US Department of State report described Albania as a home of “rampant corruption, weak legal and government institutions and weak border controls” which allows for gangs and criminality to flourish. 

Worse, corruption and collusion between criminals and lawmakers is rife. An EU-funded study, which ran from 2016 to 2019, found that 20.7% of Albanians had been offered money or favours in exchange for their vote. In January 2019, it was revealed that cocaine gangs had managed to rig elections by buying votes. 

So while there is not a formal war in Albania, the issues of crime and corruption – and the impact that can have on victims such as women trafficked into the sex trade – mean there are many reasons why someone fleeing the country would be eligible to claim asylum.

Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK, told Byline Times that Albania is a peaceful country where British tourists receive a warm welcome and “not a place of terror”.

He added that “we are delighted that the truth has been exposed about the lies being pushed by the vested interests of human rights lawyers. However, given the domination by violent Albanian criminal gangs in the cocaine and cannabis markets in the UK, we are concerned these arrivals are either foot soldiers for these gangs or being trafficked into slavery in the hundreds of cash-only Albanian-run car washes that are laundering drug money. Anyone defending this abhorrent activity should be ashamed of themselves”.

The Mail on Sunday and Home Office did not respond to our request for comment.

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