Charity challenges home secretary’s claims about ‘economic migrants’

<span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA</span>
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Suella Braverman’s claim that most asylum seekers are economic migrants has been challenged by an analysis which suggests that three out of four people crossing the English Channel in small boats this year would be granted asylum if their claims were processed.

Using Home Office statistics on Channel crossings, the Refugee Council said that 74% of arrivals in 2023 would be recognised as asylum seekers, an increase from 65% last year.

The figures contradict Braverman’s claim, made in December last year, that “70% of individuals on small boats are single men who are effectively economic migrants”.

Related: Far-right figures praise Braverman’s illegal migration comments and vow to ‘capitalise’ on her intervention

The report comes hours after the home secretary was attacked by her predecessor, Dame Priti Patel, for attention-seeking by attacking multiculturalism.

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The reality is that the men, women and children who come to the UK by taking terrifying journeys across the world’s busiest shipping lane are desperately seeking safety, having fled persecution, terror and oppression.

“Closing down the asylum system will simply result in vast cost, chaos and human misery with tens of thousands of people stuck in permanent limbo.”

The report, entitled The Truth About Channel Crossings and the Impact of the Illegal Migration Act, analyses Home Office statistics on Channel crossings.

Based on current grant rates by nationality, the report estimates that 14,648 people who have crossed so far this year would be recognised as refugees if their claims were processed. This represents 74% of all small boat arrivals in 2023 to date. This compares with nearly two-thirds of those arriving in small boats in 2022 according to similar analysis from the Refugee Council, showing more refugees are coming across the Channel.

The charity also found that more than half (54%) of arrivals are from just five countries – Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Syria and Sudan. If the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda fails, 35,409 people who arrive in the UK by small boat could be left in limbo each year, the charity said, having had their asylum claim deemed permanently inadmissible but not having been removed.

The Refugee Council also warned that, by shutting down the asylum system, the Illegal Migration Act will mean that people can’t be removed to their country of origin.

Earlier this year, court of appeal judges ruled that the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed is unlawful. The government is appealing against the decision, but even if it wins in the supreme court case on the Rwanda agreement, the Refugee Council says it has applied a “generous” estimate of 10,000 people being removed to the central African country each year.

This would still mean that more than 25,000 people would be left in a state of legal limbo, unable to work and at risk of destitution, exploitation and abuse.

In a controversial speech in the US, widely seen as a move to become the standard-bearer of the Conservative right after a general election, Braverman on Tuesday called for world leaders to consider whether the Refugee Convention was fit for the modern age.

“[Migration] is an existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the west,” she said.

The treaty obliges signatories, including the UK, to grant asylum to people fleeing persecution.

She also claimed that multiculturalism was a “misguided dogma” that had allowed people to “live parallel lives”.

Around a dozen Conservative MPs have complained to the chief whip about Braverman’s speech, amid reports that Rishi Sunak is being urged to sack her. It was also criticised by the UN refugee agency and celebrities such as singer Sir Elton John.

In an interview with Trevor Phillips on Sky News on Sunday, Patel suggested that Braverman had failed to provide “some perspective and context” around the situation in Britain, saying there had been “wider issues” around community flare-ups in places such as Leicester, which saw community unrest last year.

“You and I are sitting here today, we are the products of actual integration, multiculturalism, dynamic communities, people who love our country, want to contribute to our country, along with a hell of a lot of other people that have done exactly the same.

“I think that is something we should be proud of in our country,” she said.

The row comes as rival groups of Conservatives plan to set out their plans for immigration during the conference. Before a rally of the New Conservatives Group on Monday, a poll commissioned for the group claimed that voters supported “replacing the current European system of human rights laws applied in Britain with new British laws that protect rights like free speech but enable the government to promptly deport illegal migrants”.

Braverman will address the Conservative party conference on Tuesday afternoon.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Tackling illegal migration is a top priority for the government. Through our Illegal Migration Act and last year’s Nationality and Borders Act, the government has raised the threshold to qualify for refugee status in the UK, as part of our commitment to stop the boats.

“We will continue to provide protection to those most in need through our safe and legal routes and will shortly consult to understand the capacity of local authorities to house and support those arriving through these routes.

“This is a complex issue, requiring innovative solutions, such as our migration partnership with Rwanda which we remain fully committed to.”