Jan 27, 2024

UK: Sunak’s Claim “bill is working” Met with Questions About Failures in a Broken Asylum System, Home Office Offers Inhumane Accommodation Options to Reduce Hotel Use

9th June 2023 | News

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed that "Illegal Migration Bill" is working but was faced with questions about its high cost, impracticality, negative impact on vulnerable people and other asylum policies. Barges and shared rooms in overcrowded hotels are the accommodation options Home Office offer to asylum seekers.

The asylum bill went back to the House of Lords on 5 June for the second day of committee to put forward amendments on a range of topics including the return agreements with third countries, removal of unaccompanied children after reaching the age of 18 and support for victims of trafficking. Chief Policy Analyst, Jon Featonby from ECRE member Refugee Council, said that the focus of the debate was on the removal of children, noting that there are no "real answers" from the migration minister Robert Jenrick on how the bill is going to work in practice. A Home Office source said that PM Sunak's bill is "based on demented assumptions" about its deterrent effect, adding that officials were "despairing" about the practicalities of implementing measures in the bill. "If everybody knows that so-called deterrent measures don't work, why does the government insist on continuing to implement ever crueller & more inhumane measures? It is just cruelty for cruelty's sake", commented the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex & London. On the same day, Sunak gave a speech in Dover "to congratulate himself and to tell us that his plan is working". In his speech, the prime minister said the returns deal with Albania had led to 1,800 people being sent back and that crossings are now down 20% compared to last year. Shadow Secretary Yvette Cooper said that "the asylum backlog he promised to clear is at a record high, decisions are down, caseworker numbers have dropped, hotel use is up, returns are still down, only 1% of last year's small boat cases have been processed, and seven and a half thousand people arrived on dangerous small boats in the last few months alone". Sunak also underlined in the speech that the country's asylum system is "overwhelmed by people from safe countries", a claim "That's simply untrue" as "Most people are refugees from the most dangerous places on earth" as Refugee Council said. Besides, the Home Office estimates that it will have to spend between £3bn and £6bn on detention facilities, and ongoing accommodation and removals under the planned measures. The Home Office also hopes that the number of people detained will reduce and therefore reduce the cost of detention. "Instead of moving forward with this hugely expensive and unworkable crackdown on refugees seeking safety in the UK, the government should be focusing on creating a system that protects the right to claim asylum and that prioritises both compassion and control", Featonby said. Such measures including slower asylum decisions and costly hotel use are expected to further increase the public spending on the asylum system under the Tories in 2022-23 which has risen from £550m in 2012 to £2.1bn in 2021. Targets to reduce net immigration are not "particularly helpful", said the migration minister, noting that the country's asylum system was "riddled with abuse". "Indeed, asylum system is abused – by right wing politicians who are scapegoating refugees in misguided belief that will gaslight the electorate away from their incompetence, the economic and environmental disaster that they are responsible for", said Organiser at Migrants Organise Zrinka Bralo.

A new investigation finds Home Office has provided more than £3m in funding to Turkish border forces in the last year to prevent migrants reaching the UK. The funding to Turkish coastguard has increased from £14,000 in 2019 and rose to £425,000 in 2021-22 for training and equipment and up to £3m this year for "return and reintegration assistance", training and personnel. Mahmut Kaçan, Turkish lawyer on asylum, said "The UNHCR never criticises or mentions what Turkey is doing at the border. They are complicit in the deaths of these people, as are the EU and other countries that are giving money to Turkey for border security". Home Office justifies this increase of funds saying that Turkiye is ""a country of emerging importance [to the UK government] in the last two to three years and is now seen as strategically crucial to border securitisation". The Home Office faces a wave of legal claims after the UK's surveillance watchdog, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO), found a blanket policy of seizing thousands of asylum seekers’ mobile phones causing "significant harm". The organisation said in a press release that its investigation into the phone seizures, which occurred during 2020, found immigration officials made serious errors in complying with investigatory powers rules. Meanwhile, Meta has released data on how the British authorities have been using personal data to profile migrants and show them fear-based messages to discourage people from using "small boats". The Home Office has "built up profiles of the different refugee groups they want to target by combining multiple layers of minute behaviors and interests with location data detected" by Facebook. For instance; Home Office ran an ad targeting all Arabic speakers in Brussels. Lecturer in digital methods, Ben Collier, said that it is "absurd" that the government thinks that such an invasive form of digital targeting "would deter someone fleeing war and death, someone spending everything they have to reach Calais, leaving behind their lives and families". Besides, the Home Office is facing questions after an Afghan asylum seeker who claimed to be 16 years old took his own life after receiving rejection to his asylum application. "He was a young person and he should be placed in a very secure place. And why was there no support that could have prevented him from taking his own life? These are very serious questions and these questions need to be answered by the Home Office", said Shukrullah Ludin, the founder of Labour Friends of Afghanistan. The United Nations Committee of the Rights of the Child urged the government to repeal provisions in the Asylum Bill that violate children's rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Children and the Geneva Refugee Convention.

Two new barges have been purchased to house up to 1.000 asylum seekers. One of the barges will be docked at Portland Port. PM Sunak said that the barges "will relieve pressure on local communities" and spaces in hotels being used to house migrants. However, dozens of protesters gathered around Portland port ahead of the arrival of the barge, claiming the location was chosen without consulting locals. Royal Docks management authority (RodMA), the Mayor of London's office, Newham Council and the airport opposed the government's plan to house asylum seekers in Barge next to London City Airport and therefore, Home Office has declined the plan. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: ""Vulnerable people fleeing appalling circumstances would not have access to the support they need, with their safety, health and wellbeing being put at serious risk. Councils and relevant partners need to retain the legal powers and the funding to support asylum seekers humanely and with dignity". The Prime Minister also announced that nearly 3,000 asylum seekers will also be housed on two military sites in Wethersfield and Scampton by the autumn. Moreover, Home Office announced a plan to house 300 asylum seekers in a single hotel in an attempt to reduce hotel use and its costs. Dafydd Llywelyn, Dyfed-Powys police and crime commissioner said the lack of planning by the Home Office around temporary accommodation was "extremely concerning" as "There has been no local engagement or any form of consultation with local service providers to understand the impact of locating in excess of 300 asylum seekers at one location in Llanelli". About 40 asylum seekers were offered space in a Pimlico hotel, but refused to enter after being asked to sleep "four people per room" and were consequently "left on the street". A Home Office spokesperson said accommodation was offered on a "no-choice basis" and "meets all legal and contractual requirements" and the migration minister said that it is "fair and reasonable" to ask asylum seekers to share rooms in hotels in some circumstances. Westminster Council leader Adam Hug criticised a situation in which people who "are likely to have been through significant and traumatic events" were being asked to share "an inappropriately sized room with multiple strangers". In a letter he sent to Home Secretary, "Neither the Home Office nor the hotel itself responded to this incident, ultimately leaving it to council officers to manage and support this large group overnight. I would ask that you urgently clarify how this was allowed to happen, why this was acceptable, and why no communication was made with the local authority to alert us."

For further information:

For further information: