Braverman “welcomes” a report calling for a radical crackdown on asylum seekers while UNHCR criticised it for “factual and legal errors”. Investigation reveals that 20 per cent of Albanian child asylum seekers go missing from reception facilities amid UK-Albania negotiation to set up a deportation scheme to “safe” Albania. Asylum seekers continue to speak of inhumane reception conditions in hotels. UK has failed to resettle Afghans facing torture and death despite promise.

Arrivals to the UK continue and PM Rishi Sunak and his government are “under pressure” to come up with new deterrence laws against people seeking protection. This year 44,000 people have already arrived, a figure expected to rise to 47,000 before the new year. Meanwhile, Home Secretary Suella Braverman “partially” endorsed a report entitled “Stopping the Crossings” alleging that “Those making the crossings are generally not vulnerable refugees fleeing from war, torture or persecution, but economic migrants in all but name, engaged in ‘asylum shopping’. The report, published by the far-right Centre for Policy Studies think tank- lists several recommendations on “How Britain can take back control of its migration and asylum system” including calling for new laws stopping migrants who enter “illegally” from ever settling in the UK.  Braverman wrote the foreword stating: “if necessary” Britain should change human rights laws and withdraw from the European convention on human rights in order to tackle Channel crossings by small boat” further pledging to do “whatever it takes” to deal with the “small boats problem” in the Channel including “indefinite detention” of all asylum seekers entering the country “illegally”. In the foreword, she insisted that calling for action on “illegal” migration was not “xenophobic or anti-immigration”, adding that the UK “had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK”. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criticised the approach as “unworkable” and “completely out of step with British values” finding proposals having “critical factual and legal errors”. UNHCR also questioned the report’s description of asylum seekers as “illegal” – a term also used by Braverman-, saying: “There is no such thing as an ‘illegal asylum seeker’. The indefinite detention of those seeking asylum, based solely on their mode of arrival, would punish people in need of help and protection and constitute a clear breach of the United Kingdom’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention”. Asylum statistics including for Afghans, Syrians and Eritreans with recognition rates of 98 per cent also puts Braverman’s interpretation of the situation at doubt.

Almost 20 per cent of unaccompanied child asylum seekers from Albania taken in by Kent County Council this year have disappeared. The local authority took in 197 Albanian children up to 31 October, 39 of whom have gone missing. NGO Ecpat UK expressed concern over the “really high” number of missing children as they are “at risk of exploitation or have effectively been trafficked”. A government spokesperson said it took the issue of missing children “extremely seriously”, adding that it works “closely with local authorities to ensure vulnerable children are supported”. The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the government needs to take action to tackle people-trafficking gangs” who “bring children and vulnerable teenagers into the country for exploitation”. “The Home Office clearly doesn’t have a grip on this at all; for so many Albanian children to just disappear like this should have raised major alarm bells in government. They must not keep letting the gangs get away with this”, added Cooper urging the government to ensure child protection in place. Meanwhile, Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, confirmed that the UK is in negotiations with Albania to “set up a fast-track deportation scheme” as it is “very hard” for the minister to see how Albanians should be able to successfully claim asylum when they come from a “demonstrably safe” country. Jenrick added that new deterrence policies are in order so that “nobody thinks that coming to the UK is soft touch and that the UK is not a better site for asylum-shoppers than our EU neighbours”.

Asylum seekers, who were previously held at the notorious Manston facility, report about “being denied basic facilities” such as regular food, laundry and adequate water and “forced to live in cramped rooms in a seaside hotel with mouldy, leaking bathrooms” after the emptying of the facility. “Before coming to the UK, our biggest worry was getting to Britain. [But when] we arrived and were taken to Manston, our next biggest worry was leaving Manston. It was horrible,” said Mohamed, who was placed in Manston and three other hotels before coming to his current accommodation at Chatsworth Hotel. “Since then, we have been taken from place to place and not told where we are, and it’s only gotten worse”. “We deserve dignity. How long will this hell be? If I stay here for another month, I think I will run away”, says another asylum seeker named Ibrahim. Meanwhile, despite the worsening reception crisis the government keeps stalling the promised plan to construct new reception facilities and house up to 8,000 migrants aiming at speeding up the “processing of claims and the removal of people who do not have a legitimate need to claim asylum in the UK” and eventually “ending the use of hotels”. More than one year after the announcement of the plan, no new facilities have been set up and almost 50,000 asylum seekers and refugees are now being housed in hotels at a cost of £6.8m a day. The former home secretary Priti Patel raised the matter of the delay, asking Braverman “what progress she has made on the introduction of asylum reception centres”. The immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the government “continued to develop proposals” without any concrete results on the ground. ECRE member Refugee Council said the proposals would do “nothing to address the current backlog of people awaiting an initial decision for more than six months, which is currently at a record high”.

The UK has once again failed to meet its promise to resettle Afghans, who previously worked with or were affiliated with the British government, and currently facing persecution under Taliban control and awaiting relocation. Not one person has been accepted and evacuated from Afghanistan under the Home Office’s Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme (ACRS), launched in January, prompting claims that ministers are showing a “toxic combination of incompetence and indifference”. This failure has left severe harm on Afghans, Lighthouse Reports and the Observer found. Zaid, one of the Afghans awaiting resettlement after working for the British embassy for 11 years, was brutally beaten by the Taliban. They ‘tortured’ him, said a witness. Zaid applied to the UK Home Office’s ACRS in June 2022 but is yet to receive a response. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour party, condoned the controversial electronic tagging of migrants described by charities as “phycological torture”. He said that the use of GPS trackers was appropriate “whilst the claim is being processed”. His position is “disappointing” especially due to his former position as human rights lawyer, said Zehrah Hasan, advocacy director at the Joint Committee for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), adding: “We know that these tags violate people’s basic right to privacy and have devastating effects on people’s mental health. There is also no evidence base for these intrusive measures as almost no one vanishes from the asylum system”. Freedom of Torture tweeted: “Instead of competing to show who’s cruelest, we need politicians to step up for the kindness and compassion we all deserve”.

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