Refugees summary for the period mid March to mid April.
With the third reading of the Illegal Migration Bill due on the 25th April, the main centre of debate this month has been over the accommodation problems for refugees awaiting processing by the Home Office. With the cost of hotels soaring, other possibly cheaper options are being considered. The most notable suggestion has been for housing applicants on the barge Bibby Stockholm off the Dorset coast.
Asylum seekers will be housed in the most basic accommodation possible, including disused army bases, airfields and possibly ships, to save money and to dissuade people from coming to the UK, the government has said. Conservative MPs with possible sites in their constituencies are not happy; one suggestion to use an airfield in Essex has been opposed by Priti Patel, so the plan looks fraught. On the Home Office’s calculations the planned accommodation would take on a total of 5400 single men.
In a Commons statement setting out the next stage in the plans to reduce asylum claims in the UK, Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, said the plans would meet legal requirements to ensure that those who arrived were not made “destitute”, but nothing more. “We must not elevate the wellbeing of illegal migrants above those of the British people,” he told MPs.
After falling by 17% on last year’s figures, the number of boat arrivals was at a record 1000 last week.
It has been noted that up to one third of the overseas aid budget is now being spent on the domestic asylum system.
Arguments continue about the methods of assessing the age of arrivals claiming to be children. The government intends to continue with its “biological” checks although these have been dismissed as not working. Presently about 15% of those claiming children status are found to be adults.
A 2021 report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on an inspection of asylum casework found poor workplace culture, low morale and high attrition. According to a recent letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee the annual attrition in the 2021/2 financial year was 46%. The Inspector cited pressure to meet targets, the downgrading of the decision-maker role in 2014 and poor career progression as key contributing factors to this problem.
A decline in productivity is borne out in official statistics, with the Institute for Government calculating that there has been a 62% decrease in asylum decision making rates between 2011/12 and 2021/22, despite an increase in the number of caseworkers. This demonstrates that simply increasing the number of caseworkers, as proposed by the Prime Minister in December 2022, will not alone address the productivity issues.
Reducing unnecessary processes in the asylum decision-making system could help reduce the asylum backlog. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have recommended that the UK better triages cases to “enable those with vulnerabilities and/or meritorious claims to obtain the protection they need on a timely basis”, as well as recommending the introduction of simplified asylum case processing, for example through the use of “pre-filled caseload specific templates for interviews”. Applications from countries that have been identified as having high grant rates, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Eritrea and Yemen, could be suitable for such processes.
The Home Office has been accused of “blocking” MPs from helping desperate asylum seeker constituents despite the backlogs in the department. Labour MP Kate Osamor has been seeking to help a family of five, including a newborn, facing imminent homelessness in her Edmonton constituency. They submitted an asylum application last September and are in the usual state of limbo. Ms Osamor says when she contacted the Migrant Help charity on their behalf she was told they were unable to deal with MPs directly. Migrant Help is an advice charity and is the Advice Issue Reporting and Eligibility provider appointed by the Home Office.
When contacted by The Independent, a Migrant Help adviser said: “I am afraid Migrant Help are not contracted to respond to MPs correspondence and have forwarded the attached to the MP correspondence team. Our call handlers will reach out to the service user to see if there is any further support they can provide. I would like to clarify that not responding to MP enquiries is not a Migrant Help policy but a directive given to us by the Home Office as part of our work under the advice, issue reporting and eligibility (AIRE) contract. I have expressed concerns regarding this process”.