Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Calais: Questions the Daily Mail must answer

The Mail on Sunday claimed that hundreds of migrants were 'illegally' entering Britain from Calais and 'being put up in hotels at taxpayers expense'. But was this entirely true? 

Yesterday I phoned the story’s reporter, Brendan Carlin, to ask him.

“I’ve got a plumbing emergency right now,” he responded. “My toilet’s blocked. Send me an email and I’ll try to answer your questions.”

I sent Mr Carlin three key questions about his story – in summary:
1. Do you have any evidence for your claim that “hundreds” are being put up in hotels? Serco, the private company contracted by the government to accommodate asylum seekers, say that there are only 100. G4S, the other private company, say they have none in hotels.
2. What is your evidence that asylum seekers being put up in hotels all came to Britain via Calais? The Home Office says this information isn’t available.
3. Why do you state that those being put up in hotels are “immigrants illegally entering UK?” Under international law and convention, asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants
Today I received a response from the Managing Editor of the Mail on Sunday, John Wellington. In summary he replied:
1. “We refer to ‘hundreds’ of migrants because Serco told us there were a hundred last Friday. The number fluctuates daily so it seems evident that other migrants may have been put up in hotels previously… The term ‘hundreds’ seemed appropriate to indicate that there are substantial numbers, more than ‘dozens’ or ‘scores’ but less than ‘thousands’”
2. “All the migrants we interviewed arrived via Calais. This is known to be the main route for illegal entrants and that large numbers have been arriving this way, particularly recently.”
3. “People entering the UK without a visa do so illegally and are generally subject to arrest on arrival. Once they have applied for asylum they have a legitimate right to remain whilst their claim is considered. Our article was not inaccurate in this regard.”
But I consider the answers from the Mail on Sunday’s Managing Editor to be completely inadequate. This afternoon I challenged him to either provide substantive evidence to support his paper’s claims, or to promptly publish a prominent correction.

I told the Editor, “From your comments, I fail to see how the Mail can justify your story’s opening sentence that ‘hundreds of migrants … are being put up in hotels at taxpayers’ expense.’ You appear to have no evidence to support this assertion.”

Mr Wellington had written that, “it seems evident that other migrants may have been put up in hotels previously”. But as I pointed out to him, the Mail’s report was not about the past, but the present. Saying that migrants “may” have been put up in hotels previously is not evidence that “hundreds” are being put up in hotels right now. 

Serco states it hasn’t previously put up any asylum seekers in hotels this year; GS4 told the Mail they had only put up “a handful”. So where are the “hundreds” claimed by The Mail?

What evidence did The Mail have that those being put up in hotels all came to Britain from Calais? Mr Wellington asserted that, “all the migrants we interviewed have arrived via Calais.” But the Mail’s story only included details of two asylum seekers. How many of the other 98 asylum seekers currently housed in hotels did the Mail interview to check if they had actually arrived here via Calais? 

As the Home Office pointed out to me today, asylum seekers can reach Britain by several routes and some of them may have already been here for some time before applying for asylum.

The Mail described the people being put up in hotels as "entering the UK illegally". But all the 100 being temporarily accommodated in hotels are asylum seekers. So why did the Mail refer to them as being illegal immigrants?

I also pointed out to Mr Wellington, “Your story indicated that housing and feeding the asylum seekers in hotels was costing the British tax payer, as if the food and hotel accommodation itself was going to incur extra expense to the tax payer.”

But Serco and G4S receive a flat rate from the government for each asylum seeker they are contracted to look after, regardless of where they are accommodated. So why didn’t the Mail on Sunday make this clearer from the start of their story, rather than giving the impression to its readers that having to feed and house asylum seekers in hotels was going to cost taxpayers’ more?

I am waiting for the Editor’s response.

Other articles by Jon Danzig:

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Jon Danzig's speech in Germany: 'Newspaper lies can cost lives'

Click the arrow below to hear an 11-minute radio interview on why Calais asylum-seekers should be allowed to seek refuge in Britain

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