Is there evidence for Suella Braverman’s claims of “heightened criminality” among boat arrivals?
In a morning round of interviews, the home secretary once again created news by making the kind of claim about migrants that was once seen as racially incendiary, but is fast becoming the norm among Home Office ministers.
Asked whether she agreed with immigration minister Robert Jenrick’s view that uncontrolled inflows “threaten to cannibalise the compassion of the British public”, Braverman said: “I think that the people coming here illegally do possess values which are at odds with our country.
“We are seeing heightened levels of criminality when related to the people who’ve come on boats related to drug dealing, exploitation, prostitution.
“There are real challenges which go beyond the migration issue of people coming here illegally. We need to ensure that we bring an end to the boat crossings.”
The comments have provoked warnings from anti-racist organisations such as Hope Not Hate that they will be seized upon by the far right and could result in further community tensions around migrant hotels.
Asked later to explain on what evidence she is basing her claims of “heightened levels of criminality”, she said she had spoken to several senior police officers. “We’ve got people here who are coming here illegally. That in itself is criminal behaviour and that’s why we’re setting up our new framework on illegal migration,” she said.
“But in my conversations with many police chiefs around the country, they are now reporting back to me that [about] drug gangs. They’re dealing with people who came on small boats. Not in all cases, but it is becoming a notable feature of everyday crime-fighting on the streets of England and Wales.
“We cannot ignore the fact that many people are coming here illegally, and they’re getting very quickly involved in the drug trade and other exploitation in criminality and prostitution.”
Asked if it was right to base such a controversial claim on anecdotal evidence, Braverman said: “They are police chiefs, experts in their field and authoritative sources of information as to what they are seeing in their force areas.”
Her office declined to say which senior officers she had spoken to, but did say that there were “multiple” sources.
The Oxford Migration Observatory, the academic institute that gathers data on the movement of people, said it was not aware of any recent academic or official statistics examining criminality among refugees who had recently arrived in the UK.
“There is little evidence that migrants are any more or less likely to commit crimes than any other members of the population,” a spokesperson said.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said it was not in a position to say who Braverman had spoken to.
But police sources said there is a general perception that those who arrive in small boats are vulnerable and can be victims or become victims of exploitation and then become involved in crimes.
There will undoubtedly be those who go on to commit crime and there can be a variety of reasons why this may occur such as exploitation, debt bondage or proximity to organised crime gangs, the source said.