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7 Charts That Show The Reality Of The Calais "Swarm" Of Migrants

We're not really being swamped by hordes of immigrants.

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In Calais, a group of migrants are living in makeshift camps and trying to board ferries or use the Channel tunnel to make it to England.

Philippe Huguen / AFP / Getty Images

It has been described as a "crisis". The cabinet has held emergency meetings to discuss how to deal with the problem, and David Cameron, the prime minister, has referred to a "swarm" of migrants. It is estimated that there are about 3,000 people in the camps.

In general, people overestimate how many migrants there are in Britain.

Ipsos-Mori / BuzzFeed / Via ipsos-mori.com

According to polling firm Ipsos-Mori, most people overestimate the number of migrants in this country by nearly 100%. The average guess is that 24% of the population are immigrants; the reality is 13%. Similarly, we overestimate how much of the population is Muslim – we think it's more than 20%, when in fact it's just 5%. This includes the estimates of irregular ("illegal") immigration.

And while the desperate group in Calais attracts lots of media attention, it's not a fair picture of what immigration into Britain looks like.

Home Office / BuzzFeed. Figures for year to September 2014 / Via gov.uk

People seeking asylum in Britain are a tiny percentage of the overall immigration picture. The majority of people who are given visas to come here are students; the second-biggest group is people on work-related visas. They both hugely outweigh the number claiming asylum.

Of course, the number of people entering the country illegally is unknown. However, estimates have been made.

Mayor of London / BuzzFeed / Via london.gov.uk

The most recent major effort was a 2007 update of a 2005 study, which found that there were between 373,000 and 719,000 irregular migrants living in this country, with a central estimate of 533,000. That's a hugely imprecise estimate, obviously, but still a large number.

However, the large majority of them are people who applied for asylum while in this country and then didn't leave when it was declined. A report for the mayor of London suggests that the main other category is people who have overstayed their visas.

The figures aren't broken down properly, but of the estimated increase in irregular migrants between 2001 and 2007, less than 19% are either overstayers or illegal entrants, and illegal entrants are, apparently, only a small fraction of that. (Note: The estimate range is between 8% and 27%; 19% is the central estimate.)

Whatever the precise number, people smuggling themselves in via lorries in Calais are clearly only a small part of the overall picture.

Philippe Huguen / AFP / Getty Images

As Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said in an article for The Guardian recently, "The 'typical' illegal immigrant is a Brazilian who came here on a tourist visa and decided to stay and make some money working in a restaurant; or an Australian who arrived on a working visa and is now a gym instructor. He or she is not an Eritrean who hid in the back of a lorry – who in any case is quite likely to have a valid claim for refugee status."

What's more, the Calais migrants need to be seen in the context of the Europe-wide situation.

UNHCR / BuzzFeed / Via unhcr.org

Three thousand people trying to get into the UK sounds like a lot. But according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 137,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa in the first six months of 2015 alone, fleeing "war, conflict and persecution". Of course, we don't know how many people have actually moved through Calais, but it is a tiny fraction of the number coming into Europe.

If you read the British press, you might get the impression that migrants are rushing across Europe to get to Britain. That's not really the case.

Eurostat / World Bank / BuzzFeed / Via appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu

For a European country our size, we're firmly mid-table when it comes to how many people try to come here to claim asylum. And the countries that take in more than us take in a lot more than us. Sweden, the most generous country, takes in more than four times as many as we do, per capita; Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland more than three times.

And it's not as if we're super generous when it comes to allowing those asylum seekers in, either.

Eurostat / World Bank / BuzzFeed / Via ec.europa.eu

If you ever read that we're a "soft touch", remember this graph.

Even when it comes to total immigration, including skilled workers and students, we're totally average.

Eurostat / World Bank / BuzzFeed / Via appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu

We are not, by the standards of our neighbours, being swamped, or particularly welcoming.

Also, they're not flocking here for our generous benefits.

The Calais migrants are from outside the EU. Non-EU citizens can only claim benefits if they're claiming asylum and can show they're destitute, whereupon the Home Office will provide some support, or if they manage to get refugee status, whereupon they get the same benefits as any Briton.

Besides, a Refugee Council survey found that around 75% of asylum seekers have no knowledge of the UK welfare system before they get here. Some are even disapproving; one said "I didn't know about the welfare system. I don't like it actually … I just feel it's because of the system that people are not working."

And in any case, Britain's benefits are not especially generous. Comparing between countries is complicated because of the differing systems, but a BBC breakdown of the various countries' welfare packages puts Britain well below France, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands in terms of generosity.

This isn't to say that migration into Britain doesn't cause any problems. It puts real pressure on housing, for instance.

However, they are problems that all of Europe faces, and Britain is apparently taking no more than its fair share of the burden.

Tom Chivers is a science writer for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Tom Chivers at tom.chivers@buzzfeed.com.

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