Grant Shapps Assigned as the New Home Secretary After Braverman’s Resignation Amid Signs of a Collapsing Government, Challenges and Critique of Unworkable Rwanda Policy Continue as Asylum Seekers Face Miserable Reception Conditions

Suella Braverman resigned from her position as a Home Secretary on 19 October after just 43 days in the role, “throwing Liz Truss’s premiership into further chaos”. In her resignation letter, Braverman cited a breach of rules as well as concerns over the direction of the government saying “The business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes. Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics. I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign”. In Braverman’s short period as a home secretary, she indeed made mistakes as she aimed to continue and toughen controversial asylum policies. Braverman stated that her “ultimate aspiration” was to reduce migration by barring anyone who crosses the Channel from claiming asylum in Britain with no exception and seeing the controversial Rwanda scheme implemented with deportations. On 20 October, Grant Shapps, who is positioned in the centre-right fraction of the conservative party, was announced the new home secretary of the UK, six weeks after being fired as transport secretary by Liz Truss. Shapps acknowledged it was a “turbulent time for the government” but added that he was “looking forward to getting stuck into the role” regardless. Adding to the near-collapse of the British conservatism, Liz Truss resigned as the UK’s Prime Minister departing as the shortest-serving PM in UK’s history on 21 October. BBC says the next PM will be known by the end of next week.

Meanwhile, the unworkable Rwanda outsourcing scheme is still in the headlines sparking legal challenges and criticism. On 13 October, the NGO Asylum Aid challenged the policy in front of the  High Court. Regarding the timeframe of the removal process, the UK government has insisted that the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda within three weeks of their arrival “upholds” their rights, and added that “There is no reason why the procedure should not be ‘capable of completion’ fairly in two to three weeks”. Further, the court heard that asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda are given a “notice of intent” of just seven days to make the case against their removal – according to the Home Office it “gives sufficient opportunity to the individual to make representations”. However, legal organisations find the government’s timescales “unfair and unlawful”. Charlotte Kilroy from Asylum Aid said this period was “manifestly too short,” failing to give asylum-seekers sufficient time to access proper legal advice and gather evidence for their cases. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, later told the court that Rwanda “lacks irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system” and that the policy would lead to a serious risk of breaches of the Refugee Convention. Furthermore, the UK’s High Court ruled on 14 October in a case over the home office’s practice of taking phones away from more than 1.300 asylum seekers who arrived in the UK in small boats. The court ruled seizing phones unlawful and therefore, anyone who crossed the Channel between April and November 2020 and had their phones seized may be able to claim compensation. The court ruled over the same practice in an earlier hearing in March 2022 saying that: “the department operated an unlawful, secret, blanket policy to take almost 2,000 mobile phones from asylum seekers arriving in the UK on small boats and then downloaded data from these phones”. The home office defended its position during that hearing in March saying “it helped officials gather evidence about the people smugglers”. The judges’ confirmed the previous ruling as well as pointed to a “failure of governance which allowed an unlawful policy to operate for an unknown period of time before November 2020”.

Asylum seekers and rights organisations continue to denounce the misery in hotels used by the Home Office for reception. ECRE member, the Refugee Council said that the former military airfield at Manston in Kent, which is meant to receive 1,000 people, is currently accommodating 3,000 people. While the council described conditions there as “inhumane” with overcrowding, disease and children sleeping on floors, the home office spokesman said: “Manston is resourced and equipped to process migrants securely and we will provide alternative accommodation as soon as possible”. Meanwhile, the Home Office refuses to confirm the cases of a confirmed outbreak of diphtheria in the facility in Manston. According to the Guardian: “Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection that affects the skin, nose and throat. It can cause breathing difficulties and can be fatal without treatment. It is very rare in the UK and last year there were just 10 confirmed cases. A vaccination programme for the disease was introduced in the UK in 1942”.

Further, asylum seekers as young as 16 years old testify that they have been prevented from leaving their Home Office hotels for days in conditions an expert described as “effective detention”. “There were days where we had to wait three hours for them to let us go out,” a young asylum seeker said. “Staying in a room for [five] days, having nothing to do, and not knowing what’s going to come next – it was difficult”. Unsurprisingly, Home Office rejected these allegations saying: “No one in hotels is detained, including those on immigration bail. To suggest otherwise is wrong”. According to a recently published governmental inspection report, thousands of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been placed in hotels since October 2021. This includes 899 children aged just 14 and 15. The Refugee Council finds the report “alarming” underlining that the actual figures might be even higher than the ones in the report and added a call for “urgent action to correct this dangerous approach, which presents a serious safeguarding issue to the vulnerable young people involved. It is asking for the immediate end to the use of hotels, and it is calling for the Department for Education to take a lead and ensure that local authorities are caring for children according to the law”.

Meanwhile, an exclusive three-month investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team reveals the extent of relationship breakdowns that has left Ukrainian refugees, who joined the inadequate Homes for Ukraine scheme, at risk of exploitation and homelessness, and local councils stretched. The analysis based on the data collected found that 300 councils were contacted 1,937 times about a sponsorship breakdown and in over a quarter of councils at least one in every ten sponsorships ended early. The data also shows what happened to Ukrainian refugees after their sponsorship broke down. Councils reported that some refugees were housed in hotel accommodations, others were re-matched with another sponsor in the UK, and some became homeless. “Government figures put the number of Ukrainian refugees who are now homeless at 1,333. Some fear that 50,000 Ukrainian refugees will end up homeless”. A government spokesman commented saying: “Strict safeguarding checks are in place and in the minority of cases where a relationship breaks down, councils have a duty to ensure families are not left without a roof over their heads and we’re giving them £10,500 per person to provide this support”.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.