MigrationWatch UK is an immigration and asylum think-tank, which describes itself as independent and non-political, but which has been characterised by some commentators and academics as a right-wing pressure group. It is chaired by Andrew Green, a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, is an honorary consultant.
History and structure
MigrationWatch UK was founded in December 2001 by Andrew Green, a retired diplomat who served as British Ambassador in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Deborah Orr states in an article in The Independent that the organisation came into being when, "after reading some of his anti-immigration letters in The Times", Sir Andrew approached David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, and they subsequently set up MigrationWatch. Companies House documents indicate that the company was formally incorporated on 15 August 2002.
The company's objectives as described in its articles of association are "to conduct research into migration issues and to educate the public in the relevant facts". Coleman is now a consultant to MigrationWatch "but does not speak on its behalf" and Companies House records indicate that Coleman has no formal involvement in the company's legal entity. Companies House documentation lists two registered directors: Sir Andrew Green and his wife Lady Catherine Jane Green. No other Directors are recorded in Companies House documentation. The company secretary is a David Lewis of Minehead, Somerset. The organisation has an advisory council, which is chaired by Green and whose members include David Coleman and Caroline Cox, Baroness Cox, Alp Mehmet and Roger Williams.
Unlike many think tanks, many of whom receive public funds, the organisation is not registered as a charity but operates instead as a company limited by guarantee and its website states that the organisation relies on donations from the public. The company's abbreviated accounts for 2010 indicate that, at that time, it had total assets of £29,320.
MigrationWatch's website, which is archived in the UK Web Archive, contains a range of briefing papers to support the organisation's perspective on the statistical, legal economic and historical aspects of migration, and on topics such as the European Union, housing, health and social cohesion, as they relate to immigration. MigrationWatch also conducts research for the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration, co-chaired by Frank Field MP and Nicholas Soames MP, provides secretarial and administrative support for them and created, financed and updates the group's website.
Sir Andrew is a regular commentator on immigration and asylum matters in the British media. He is frequently quoted or interviewed and writes numerous articles for the major daily newspapers including right-of-centre newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and Daily Star. He has also written for The Times and for guardian.co.uk, the website of the liberal-left newspaper The Guardian. A 2005 Demos publication states that Andrew Green was quoted on the topic of asylum at least once a week in the Daily Express and Daily Star, starting from early 2003. Green also featured prominently in the BBC's "asylum day" coverage of the topic in 2003.
Bernhard Gross, Kerry Moore and Terry Threadgold of the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University have criticised the broadcast media's use of MigrationWatch to 'balance' reports on immigration. In a study of broadcast coverage of the issue of asylum, they state:
It is clear from our interviews with broadcast journalists that taking 'too soft a left, liberal' approach to asylum is seen as contradicting everything they believe about the values of objectivity and impartiality. This explains why one television editor told us that "perhaps the Mail and the Express had got it right". This anxiety about taking a position seen to be supportive of asylum seems to produce an over-compensation in terms of using easily accessible right-wing sources such as MigrationWatch UK as a 'balance'. The whole idea of 'balance' in these contexts needs to be re-thought and re-imagined. There are never just two sides to any story and two negative sides do not add up to ‘balance’. Journalists do not seem at present to know where else to go with this issue.
Similarly, in February 2013, Migration Matters, an organisation chaired by Labour MP Barbara Roche and co-chaired by Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, criticised the BBC for treating MigrationWatch's analysis as politically neutral.
A website launched in February 2011 with the aim of allowing users to identify so-called churnalism revealed the extent to which newspapers such as the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Times copy and paste from MigrationWatch press releases in articles on migration.
In October 2011, Andrew Green started a petition on the UK government's e-petitions website, calling on the government "to take all necessary steps to get immigration down to a level that will stabilise our population as close to the present level as possible and, certainly, well below 70 million". When the petition closed on 20 October 2012, it had attracted 145,536 signatures.
MigrationWatch first came to public attention in August, 2002 when it claimed that immigration, including an estimate of illegal immigrants, was running at two million per decade "and probably more". Writing in October 2004, the Daily Telegraph's Philip Johnston argued that Government Actuary's Department forecasts that the UK population would increase by six million people due to immigration over three decades "appear to confirm claims made by Migrationwatch two years ago, when the group first sprang to prominence by calling for a debate on immigration". The government's latest population projections, published in October 2011, have annual net immigration of 200,000 in their principal projection scenario. Office for National Statistics figures estimate that total net migration to the UK between 2002 and 2011 was 2.01 million.
In an editorial published in December 2012, The Daily Telegraph argued that "Exactly ten years ago, a tiny campaign group captured the headlines with a startling predication that net immigration to the UK would grow by two million over the next decade. Since this was four times more than occurred in the previous decade, the forecast was rubbished by the Home Office. Moreover, the people behind the group, Migrationwatch UK, were denounced as closet racists for even raising the subject. Yet everything that Migrationwatch foresaw came true; indeed, as the figures published this week from the 2011 census show, they were overly cautious".
MigrationWatch claims to support the principle of political asylum but argues that many asylum seekers do not have a genuine case for qualifying for refugee status and are instead using the asylum system to gain entry to the UK for economic reasons. The group has also been strongly critical of what it sees as the government's failure to remove many of those whose claims are rejected. In a briefing paper published in January 2009, the group's Honorary Legal Adviser Harry Mitchell, QC stated:
We have always made it clear publicly that we support asylum for genuine claimants who are able to show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution, but we stress the word genuine. However, the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers are found not to have a genuine claim and are using the asylum process simply as a means of gaining entry to Britain which is otherwise not available to them by any lawful channel. For the most part these claimants are properly described as economic migrants. The publicised sympathy which they evoke from many well-meaning bodies is based on the implicit or sometimes explicit and in any event wrong assumption that anyone who seeks asylum must be deserving of it. Publicity given to the pronouncements of such bodies seriously misleads many members of the public.
In July 2010, MigrationWatch published a briefing paper highlighting the potential consequences of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom's unanimous ruling in favour of two homosexual asylum seekers from Iran and Cameroon, allowing them to stay in the UK. The briefing argues that: "The consequence of this decision will be to increase by many thousands the numbers of persons who may be eligible for asylum in the United Kingdom. It may well also generate a large number of claims that will be difficult to determine. It is, for example, likely that organised people smugglers will tell those clients who come from countries where homosexual acts are illegal to claim that they are homosexual. If they do so, their claims will have to be considered in a process that can often take many months during which applicants are supported by public funds".
As of April 2012[update], the MigrationWatch UK website states that the numbers applying for asylum in the UK "are nowadays small relative to immigration as a whole" and claims: "The main requirement here is to consider applications promptly and remove those whose claim has failed and who no longer have any legal right to remain in the UK".
Economic impact of immigration
MigrationWatch have argued that, while limited skilled migration (in both directions) is a natural and beneficial feature of an open economy, very large scale immigration is of little benefit to the indigenous population. MigrationWatch has claimed that migration into the UK has and will tend to hold down the real wages of British citizens. It has expressed much concern that immigration from Eastern Europe is depressing wages. In December 2008, a MigrationWatch report stated that while some immigration results in an increase in the number of people in employment, "it seems an inescapable conclusion that the sudden arrival of a very large number of very capable workers willing to work for low pay has had a negative impact on the employment of British-born workers at the bottom of the pay scale". Will Somerville and Madeleine Sumption of the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute state in an Equality and Human Rights Commission report that: "Few serious international or UK economists would agree with this conclusion". The report did, however, note that "the recent migration may have reduced wages slightly at the bottom end of the labour market, especially for certain groups of vulnerable workers".
In January 2007, MigrationWatch published a briefing paper that claimed that immigration to the UK benefitted the British population by only 4 pence per person per week, and comparing this benefit to the cost of Mars bars. The calculation was based on a statement by a Home Office minister that "migration has increased output by at least 4 billion", which subsequently turned out to have only applied to migration from the eight Central and Eastern European states that joined the EU in May 2004. The calculation therefore underestimated the financial benefit of migration. MigrationWatch published an amended version of the paper in March 2007, although this stated that the amendments "do not affect the thrust of the conclusions" and that "the benefit of large scale immigration in terms of GDP per head is minimal".
Human rights legislation
MigrationWatch UK has advocated that the UK government should "'cut loose from the straitjacket' imposed by its obligations under various conventions that made it impossible to operate the system in the country's best interests". It has called for the British government to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and write its own Human Rights Act. Its opposition to the existing ECHR is because it is not possible for some convicted terrorists to be deported at the end of their sentences to a country in which there is a real risk where they might be tortured. (Article 3 of the ECHR prohibiting torture cannot be subject to derogation, and case law has extended its application so as to prevent deportation of anyone who might be at risk of torture in their own country). Opponents of this view argue that even terrorists should not be subject to torture and should therefore be protected by human rights provisions. MigrationWatch argue that, "To those who regard it as unthinkable that anyone be placed at risk of torture, the answer would be that terrorists had been given fair warning. Furthermore, there must be an acceptable balance between the risk to foreign terrorists on their return and the risk of their continued presence to our society to which the British state owes a first duty of protection".
In January 2004, it was revealed that the British government was considering introducing HIV testing for potential immigrants in the light of a Health Protection Agency report that found two in three heterosexuals being diagnosed with HIV had contracted it in Africa. HIV testing of immigrants had previously been criticised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS, who argued that it would simply serve to stigmatise HIV-positive people. The plan was also criticised by the Terrence Higgins Trust and a report by Richard Coker of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested that a testing policy would result in driving people with diseases including HIV and tuberculosis underground. The plans were dropped in July 2004 for this reason.
MigrationWatch had supported plans to introduce testing, arguing in June 2004 that "implementation of such screening would be beneficial to public health and to public funds in the UK and to actual and potential immigrants themselves" and in December 2004 publishing a further briefing paper supporting testing, pointing out that 47 other states, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States had policies requiring HIV testing of immigrants (though the US government has since lifted its ban on HIV-positive immigrants).
Reaction to the group
MigrationWatch has received criticism in some sections of the media and from academics, as well as praise from other commentators. While the group describes itself as independent and non-political, it has been characterised as a right-wing lobby or pressure group by some commentators and academics. Migration Matters, an organisation pressing for increased public debate of migration, stated in February 2013 that "Migration Watch UK are not an independent thinktank, or academic body, but a lobbying and campaigning organisation that is currently engaged in a campaign entitled 'No to 70 Million'".
An August 2002 editorial in The Independent concerning the MigrationWatch prediction of two million migrants in the following decade carried the title "A nasty little group playing an old, and unwelcome, trick" and stated that "Migration Watch is, of course, no think tank, but a pressure group with a distinctly unpleasant agenda". It has been argued that MigrationWatch's messages "can be taken advantage of by people with Islamophobia and prejudice". The accuracy of the group's research has also been questioned. Academic Richard De Zoysa, for instance, argues that MigrationWatch's predictions of future immigration are exaggerated, while David Robinson, Professor of Housing and Public Policy at Sheffield Hallam University, argues that the group's assertion that immigrants are placing strain on social housing lacks evidence. Economist Philippe Legrain has claimed that "MigrationWatch's xenophobic prejudice is causing it to twist the truth" about the impact of immigration on the employment prospects of British people.
Professor Tony Kushner has argued that "it has been possible to couch the campaign against asylum-seekers in a discourse of morality: the need to protect 'our' people and culture against the diseased and dangerous alien, as well as the distinction drawn between helping the genuine refugee and exposing the bogus asylum-seeker", and cites MigrationWatch as contributing to this discourse. He argues that the anti-asylum campaign, through groups including MigrationWatch, "has constructed for itself a spurious statistical rationale".
Andrew Green has rejected claims that his group have exaggerated immigration forecasts. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in January 2006 he quoted an internal e-mail by a member of staff at the Home Office, which stated "I have made this point many times before, but can we please stop saying that Migration Watch migration forecasts are wrong. I have pointed out before that Migration Watch assumptions are often below the Government Actuary Department's high-migration scenario". Green argues that "To speak out about [immigration] is not to be anti-immigrant". Green has said of MigrationWatch's agenda: "It's not racism. It's realism. It's right in a democracy that the public has the facts". Journalist Deborah Orr has argued that "the great trouble with this constant flood of highly contentious figures, is that it does not do what Sir Andrew says he wants to do — promote debate. Instead, Migration Watch UK, despite its lofty claims, is working to further polarise it".
Conservative politician Jonathan Aitken has credited MigrationWatch with improving the quality of the British debate on immigration. He argues that "Migrationwatch has changed the administrative practices of the civil service and the policies of the major political parties on asylum seekers, work permit criteria and numerical totals. It has introduced integrity and accuracy into the previously misleading government statistics on immigration. The level of understanding of the subject in all serious newspapers and broadcasting organizations has been improved. Britain may or may not have the right answers to immigration questions, but we certainly now have a far more informed debate on them".
Similarly, an article by Dean Godson of the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange published in The Times in June 2006 states: "The dramatic change in the terms of the immigration debate over recent months is largely down to the determination and courage of a single individual – Sir Andrew Green, the founder and chairman of MigrationWatch UK. Almost single-handedly, he has rescued the national discourse from the twin inanities of saloon-bar bigotry on the Right and politically correct McCarthyism on the Left".
Jay Rayner, writing in The Observer quotes one senior BBC News executive, who stated that "We probably were reluctant and slow to take him seriously to begin with. We probably didn't like what he had to say. But then we were also slow to pick up on immigration as a story, not least because we are a very middle-class organisation and the impact of mass immigration was being felt more in working-class communities. If he's proved himself, it's because he hasn't put a foot wrong on the information he's published".
Academics Nissa Finney and Ludi Simpson, however, state that "we believe that the evidence used by MigrationWatchUK is questionable, yet the organisation and its arguments have received prominence in migration debates and have assumed an authority – not least because of the profiles of its highly connected chair and advisory council – which we consider dangerous if there is no similar authority presenting counterarguments".
In August 2010, Sally Bercow, a Labour Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate and wife of Conservative MP John Bercow, argued on a Sky News newspaper review that a Daily Express article based on MigrationWatch research was "oversimplifying" and constituted "dangerous propaganda". As a result, MigrationWatch and Andrew Green threatened to take libel action against Bercow. After she instructed the lawyer David Allen Green to defend the threatened action, MigrationWatch dropped its threat. According to a MigrationWatch press release, in the light of an assurance by her lawyer that Mrs Bercow "did not intend to (and did not) allege that Migrationwatch is a fascist or racist organisation", the organisation decided not to take the matter further.
In 2014, Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research complained to the Press Complaints Commission that articles in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph about the net amount of tax paid by Eastern European migrants, which were based on MigrationWatch statistics, were inaccurate. The two newspapers amended the articles in response.
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