Mail on Sunday’s shady ‘Calais migrants in hotels’ story is willfully misleading

The paper distorts reality and fuels resentment of hungry asylum seekers


In the alternative universe curated by the right-wing press, Britain is being far too compassionate in its response to the Calais ‘migrant crisis’.

Today’s Mail on Sunday shrieks that hundreds of ‘stowaway’ migrants are being put up in hotels at taxpayers’ expense, receiving hot meals in luxury accommodation.

However, this claim is grossly misleading, as the story itself eventually reveals.

The story begins:

Hundreds of migrants who have smuggled themselves into Britain from Calais are being put up in hotels at taxpayers’ expense.”

It claims illegal ‘stowaways’ are being given ‘their own hotel room, three cooked meals a day and a cash allowance of £35 a week – all within days of entering the UK’, at hotels with gyms, spas and swimming pools.

But around half way through the story, the word ‘migrants’ is suddenly replaced by ‘asylum seekers’.

So what’s going on here? Writer Jon Danzig has put it succinctly:

“100 asylum seekers (not hundreds of migrants) are being temporarily put up in hotels by private contractor Serco ‘at no extra cost to taxpayers‘ because their immigration centres are currently full.”

This is based on information in the Mail’s own story:

“Serco said last night that it was housing 100 asylum seekers in hotels but insisted it did not cost taxpayers extra as the money comes out of the general funds it receives from the Home Office.”

Comparing these facts with the story’s opening claims, this is very shady work from the Mail. 

Technically, asylum seekers are also migrants. But the terms have different legal and political meanings, as the Mail well knows. It uses ‘migrants’ on purpose to fudge the difference.

Again, technically the people in question are in hotels ‘at taxpayers’ expense’ – but using money already given to Serco, not extra funds from the UK budget.

As for exaggerating the numbers from Seco’s 100 (not in quotes, interestingly) to ‘hundreds’, and leaving the temporary and emergency nature of what is really happening till later in the story, this is grossly misleading.

Readers might conclude this story is representative of the UK’s response to the migrant crisis, rather than a novel exception.

The context is important. All week the Daily Mail has been calling on the government to get tough and ‘send in the army’, as if people fleeing Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea haven’t faced enough violence yet.

Yesterday the paper’s front page scoffed at prime minister David Cameron’s sending sniffer dogs and building a fence in Calais, under the headline ‘How feeble’.

Today’s Mail on Sunday does accidentally raise questions about how well private companies like Serco are running detention centres, and whether more money should be spent on ‘processing’ migrants and asylum seekers.

But it seems they’d rather distort reality and fuel resentment about tired, frightened, desperate people having a hot sandwich and somewhere to sleep.


As an antidote to stories like this, MediaWatch recommends this piece by Fleet Street Fox in the Mirror and this report from Calais by the Observer’s Nick Cohen.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

Read more: 

Rod Liddle says send migrants back to Syria in the Sun’s shameful Calais coverage

Daily Mail’s 5 step guide to demonising migrants

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