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How the Tabloid Press Misleads on Migration

The Byline Intelligence Team take a look at how media reporting on immigration and asylum can spread misinformation about the weaponised issue

Migrant people brought to shore by border force. Photo: Edward Crawford/Alamy

How the Tabloid PressMisleads on Migration

The Byline Intelligence Team take a look at how media reporting on immigration and asylum can spread misinformation about the weaponised issue

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The right-wing press in this country loves nothing more than a celeb scandal, a Royal fall-out… and the chance to engage in some anti-immigration rhetoric. 

Following Byline Times’ report debunking claims that Albanian people make up nearly half of all Channel crossings, this newspaper looked into some of the bizarre inaccuracies and claims made in recent reporting about migration. It didn’t have to look far… 

Misinformation and Modern Slavery

There has been a lot of debate and discussion around the UK Government’s Migration and Economic Partnership with Rwanda, with the first deportation flight grounded after a legal challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. 

The Express has since published claims that the Rwanda policy will never see people deported to the east African country due to Theresa May’s modern slavery policies. 

‘Apoplectic!’ Boris’ Rwanda deportation plan ‘WILL fail’ and ‘it is Theresa May’s fault’

“A Whitehall source told ‘Nobody will be deported to Rwanda in the end because of the legal challenges. The reason we went originally from 100 on the flight to five before the ECHR intervened was actually because of Theresa May’s modern slavery law. It looks like it will be difficult to get around that’.

“The result means that if anybody even raises a claim or suspicion that they have been a victim of modern day slavery they can get a right to remain and deportation can be blocked because of their victim status. The senior source said: ‘There is no need for proof at all so it is hard to see how we can actually deport anybody’.”

This is a mischaracterisation of the rules around modern slavery laws, not least because it would mean anyone facing deportation for any reason – including having committed a crime while living in the UK – would simply claim modern slavery and be granted the ‘right to remain’. 

Firstly, people don’t raise a claim that they are a victim of modern slavery, they have to be referred by a first responder via the National Referral Mechanism to the Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority within the Home Office, which will then determine if someone is a victim. 

Secondly, evidence then has to be gathered to prove their exploitation. 

10 FavoursThe Government has doneits Press Friends – At Our Expense

Brian Cathcart

Thirdly, even if it is decided that the person is a victim of modern slavery, the victim must still demonstrate that their individual circumstances justify granting them discretionary leave to remain.

What’s more, the Nationality and Borders Act has updated the rules around modern slavery since May’s time – with alleged victims now at risk of being penalised if they don’t disclose evidence within a specific time limit of their referral, as are those who have served criminal sentences for more than 12 months even if the crimes were committed as part of their exploitation. 

Now, The Telegraph has joined the Express, publishing a front page splash about comments by former immigration minister Chris Philp, calling modern slavery laws the “biggest loophole” in allowing illegal immigrants escape deportation.

He claims that people change their story and say they are victims of modern slavery after meeting immigration lawyers – but once again, this is not how the National Referral Mechanism works.

The Home Secretary has announced a crackdown on people exploiting the modern slavery laws, including ending “low thresholds on proof”, limiting the number of claims and making sure the system was “about the recovery of victims rather than an open immigration route”.

Mixed Meanings

A report in The Times looks at claims that “traffickers are posting social media adverts offering ‘bargain’ prices for migrants. People smugglers are promoting small boats that they claim have ‘never been cheaper’, down from £5,000 to £3,500 per head”.

This is one of the classic mistakes in how the media and government talk about migration – particularly migration across the Channel: the confusion (deliberate or otherwise) of smugglers and traffickers. 

Here at Byline Times, we know the difference. A smuggler or people smuggler is someone paid by a migrant person to help them cross borders, including across the Channel. They are likely linked to criminal gangs. After they have been paid, and the journey is complete, that’s the end of the relationship between the smugglers and the customer. 

Yes it’s exploitative. Yes it trades on people’s misery and desperation. But trafficking is different. 

People traffickers do smuggle people into or around a country, but for the purposes of criminal exploitation. They are not paid by their victims, nor do their victims consent to their exploitation. The victims may be trapped in the modern slavery situation for months or even years, forced into labour, sex and criminal exploitation in order to generate profit for the traffickers. 

Children Asylum Seekers Over 18

There have been numerous occasions where the media has reported that children seeking asylum are in fact adults – claims based on little more than guesswork. 

In fact, this month the Express had to correct a January 2021 article that claimed “asylum ‘children’ are aged over 18” and that 67% of “unaccompanied child migrants who arrived into the UK via illegal routes were found to be over the age of 18”.

In fact, the 67% referred to those who the Home Office suspected of lying about their ages – not all children arriving into the UK. This fear, however, is unfounded: around 90% of asylum seekers who claim to be children are believed by the Home Office to be children. 

Despite the Borders Act introducing so-called “scientific methods” to confirm that asylum seekers claiming to be children are children, there is in fact no way to determine someone’s age.

The United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees has warned that these age assessments are inaccurate, re-traumatising and, in some cases, can be potentially harmful because of exposure to radiation through x-rays. When asylum seekers are incorrectly classified as adults by the Home Office, they miss out on vital education, care and support. 

The Child Asylum Seekers Accusedof Faking their Ages by the Home Office

Sophia Alexandra Hall

Who is Arriving

The Byline Intelligence Team has challenged claims that one in four people crossing the Channel are from Albania – but misinformation about this specific population abounds. It seems that anti-immigration voices cannot understand how the asylum system is for everyone facing persecution, not just people in warzones.

Just take this claim that aired on GB News.

‘Not one Albanian man crossing from France would ever qualify as a refugee’ – Nigel Farage reacts to latest Channel migrant figures

GB News published Farage’s claim that not one Albanian man would ever qualify as a refugee, but Government statistics show that 51% of Albanian people who cross the Channel are granted asylum.

Although the official statistics do not provide a breakdown by gender, nine in 10 people crossing the Channel are male. 

Danger Danger!

The recent protests against detaining people in Linton-on-Ouse featured some local people expressing fears that housing male people seeking asylum could lead to crime – a claim for which there is no real evidence.

The same fears have been amplified around housing asylum seekers in hotels.

Residents in UK hotel say they’ve been moved to make room for migrants – exclusive

While it is true that more and more migrant people are being housed in hotels – the hotel population has almost tripled over the course of 2021 – the implication that these people make the local area unsafe is unfounded.

A local man told GB News that the arrival of migrant people makes the area “too dangerous”, but it is in fact those housed in hotels who are unsafe.  

A recent report by the Refugee Council found that hotel accommodation directly caused migrant people’s health to deteriorate and limited their access to vital legal and support services. Migrant people housed in hotels fear attacks by far-right, anti-migrant groups – hotels were targeted at least 125 times in 2021 by anti-immigration figures. There are also trafficking concerns: an investigation by the Independent found that 20 unaccompanied child refugees went missing in a five-month period. 

Debunking Asylum DisinformationThe Mail on Sunday and Albanian Migrants

Sascha Lavin and Sian Norris

What About Brexit?

Arguably the biggest disinformation sold to the public by the tabloid press was that leaving the European Union could help the UK ‘take back control’ of its borders.

This Express article celebrated the potential for Brexit to control immigration, but it has had the opposite effect on asylum.

Brexit Britain will FINALLY bring immigration under control, vows minister

While true to a degree – as shown by the New Plan for Immigration – as it stands, leaving the EU has made it harder for the Government to refuse asylum applications.

Brexit meant leaving a mechanism called the Dublin Regulation which allowed Dublin member states to send requests to other member states to “take charge of” or “take back” asylum applications (subject to time limits). The regulations have not applied to the UK since January 2021.    

According to an article in the Guardian in May, about the increase in asylum approvals, the Home Office confirmed “the rise in approval rates was in part a consequence of Brexit, since this was the first year that officials have not been able to refuse asylum applications from people who travelled through other safe European countries before arriving in the UK”.

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.

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.

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