Ongoing calls for asylum seekers to be granted the right to work have received support from leading government and opposition politicians as a court ruling confirms the work ban negatively affects families. Claims that asylum seeker processing will be offshored to Albania have been swiftly dismissed as “fake news”. The UK continues to urge the French authorities to “do more” to halt Channel crossings while NGO denounce the violent tactics already in play.

UK government ministers have been urged to take a “more humane” approach by allowing more than 70,000 people awaiting an asylum decision to work. According to Enver Solomon, CEO of ECRE member the Refugee Council, the current work ban means: “Thousands of skilled and talented people live on limited financial support in limbo awaiting a decision on their asylum claim for months or years on end, desperate to be able to work to contribute to our communities.”

NGOs campaigning against current policy have recently seen support from politicians including Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, opposition leader Keir Starmer, and various Tory MPs. The Justice Secretary spoke positively about such a move, saying it would assist with integration and help plug gaps in the workforce. Home Office sources however insist that the right to work would “create a pull factor for illegal immigration like never before”. Conservative MP David Simmonds disputed this, saying: “I’m not sure there is [an incentive]. We know one of the big issues is that asylum seekers may well be working in the grey economy anyway, and it’s right that we should make the most of the opportunity for people to become taxpaying citizens.” The Government first announced it would review the policy in 2018. Yet, despite confirming in 2019 and 2020 that a review was “ongoing”, on 28 September a Home Office representative said there were “no plans” to change the policy.

A High Court ruling has found the UK’s “permission to work” policy for asylum seekers to be unlawful on the grounds that it fails to adequately consider the best interests of children. The judgmentfound that banning a parents from working – except in an extremely restricted range of “skills shortage” roles and only after one year of awaiting a decision – may have “extremely harmful consequences” on children and families. In a separate judgment, the Court found that asylum seekers housed in hotels during the pandemic should have been given money for phone calls to their family. This decision may require millions in backdated payments to an estimated 10,000 asylum seekers. The rulings were significant given nine times more people are awaiting an asylum decision than a decade ago, despite a drop in the number of applicants. 80 per cent of applicants wait more than six months, and the average waiting time is at least a year.

Following complaints about the housing of asylum seekers in “squalid” military barracks, the Home Office has once again come under fire for placing hundreds of people in a cramped hostel despite the Coronavirus risk. Having been placed in 24-bed dorms that made social distancing impossible, asylum seekers fell prey to a Coronavirus outbreak in the facilities at the end of September. Authorities would not confirm the numbers of people affected or their condition.

Albania has refuted UK media claims that the Home Office has been in confidential talks with Albanian officials to set up a processing centre for people who enter the UK via sea. As a Bill currently before Parliament seeks to facilitate offshore immigration processing centres based on the “Australian model”, newspapers have been rife with speculation about how this could take place in practice. The Albanian foreign minister Olta Xhacka however was quick to deny rumours, saying “Albania will proudly host 4,000 Afghan refugees based on its goodwill, but will never be a hub of anti-immigration policies of bigger and richer countries.”

The plan was said to be a response to over 17,000 people arriving in the UK via the Channel so far this year. The government has also sought to lean on France for border control, with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that France “could do more” to stop Channel journeys. French authorities already going to extreme measures to intercept people, including shooting rubber bullets at people on the move. French police confirmed in recent days that “flash-balls” – described as “non-lethal projectiles” made of rubber or foam – were fired at eight Iranian Kurds on 22 September whilst they attempted to launch a dinghy. At least two people were taken to hospital with injuries.

Concurrently, the local police prefecture continue to regularly dismantle makeshift camps around Calais, with Human Rights Observers reporting 14 evictions in 3 days. A new report from Human Rights Watch, titled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”, lays bare the harm caused by repeated mass eviction operations, near-daily police harassment, and restrictions on provision of and access to humanitarian assistance for people on the move.

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Photo: (CC) Jeff Djevdet, February 2016