Number of arrivals to the UK has passed 42,000 and continue despite ongoing deterrence efforts and harsh weather conditions. Leading Tory MPs and ex-ministers are demanding the swift return of Albanian asylum seekers including survivors of trafficking. Amnesty International accuses UK government of “hypocrisy” for hosting sexual violence summit while failing to provide protection to its survivors at home. Manston emptied but not closed as scandals keep emerging.

The total number of arrivals to the UK on small boats was standing at 40.000, before UK and France announced their new deal on 14 November aimed at enhancing “cooperation on illegal migration including small boats”. Meanwhile, people continue to risk their lives to arrive in the UK despite harsh weather conditions and ongoing deterrence efforts. On the day of the deal, 400 people reached British soil in eight vessels and in November alone, 2.261 migrants arrived in the UK, and on 29 November, French authorities rescued 61 migrants including children from the English channel after being stuck in water for at least 30 minutes. These latest crossings had made the total number of arrivals reach so far 42,164, exceeding 2021’s total of 28,526 people. However, the UK’s “broken asylum system” leaves channel arrivals in legal limbo for months and years. The number of people awaiting a decision on their asylum claims has reached more than 140,000, new figures show. Only 17 per cent of people arriving on small boats since 2018 have had their asylum claims decided and according to Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, the situation continues to worsen. “Asylum decision-making has collapsed – with only 2 per cent of people who arrived in small boats over the last year having had their cases decided,” she said pointing to “mismanagement of asylum and migration systems” and adding: “They (Home Office) have no proper grip or control, they just ramp up the rhetoric instead of putting sensible policies in place”.

Albanians make up around a third of all crossings of the Channel over the past 12 months with more than 9,076 recorded. The recognition rate for Albanian male asylum applications stands at just 13 per cent compared to applications by refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea with a recognition rates of 98 per cent, while 88 per cent of Albanian women and children had their asylum applications accepted. The Home Office said: “This year we are seeing large numbers of Albanians risking their lives and making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK through illegal means, and this is placing further strain on our asylum system”. Home Secretary Suella Braverman is reportedly looking at resurrecting a list of countries deemed “safe” by Home Office to “deter illegal migration” and “reduce asylum backlogs”. The initiative follows a letter to the government signed by Tory MPs and led by Former Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis “dealing with the Albanian migrant crisis”. Albania is currently on the list of “safe” countries of origin, and asylum seekers including those who were trafficked should be returned, said Davis. The letter urges PM to “rapidly implement a ‘simple’ change in the “modern slavery laws” to help reduce the flow of people” arriving in the UK and enable the return of Albanian asylum seekers including victims of trafficking. Signatories of the letter ague that this proposal is the ‘straightforward and legally workable way of addressing the crisis’ and would be a ‘very strong deterrent’ for those planning to risk the perilous crossing. Steve Valdez-Symonds from Amnesty UK said: “Returning someone to where they were trafficked from is likely to deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again, unless there is some significant improvement to their circumstances in that place”.

NGOs accuse the UK government of “hypocrisy” as the UK hosted a survivors of sexual violence summit in London on 28-29 November while “UK survivors of conflict-related sexual violence are subject to cruel and inhumane treatment”. Amnesty UK in a press release stated: “Most women seeking refuge in the UK have been victims of violence, including rape, and yet the asylum system subjects them to further traumatisation, detention and threats of deportation. The UK also fails to provide safe, official routes for refugee women and girls to seek asylum in the UK, and has significantly restricted the opportunity for thousands of women and girls to find safety in the UK under provisions for reunion with refugee partners or parents”. Chiara Capraro from Amnesty UK urged the government to “get its own house in order”. Meanwhile, Freedom from Torture launched a report entitled ‘Fleeing a Burning House’, exploring the factors that push torture survivors from their country of origin towards safety in the UK including gender-based violence. In the report, Freedom from Torture urged the UK government to respect and uphold its commitments towards people fleeing violence in all its forms, repeal provisions of the Nationality and Borders Act, suspend the infamous Rwanda scheme, expand safe routes for asylum seekers and end hostile environment.

The notorious Manston facility was emptied on 22 November after weeks of controversy over “disgraceful” conditions including claims of drug-selling by guards, outbreaks of infectious diseases, and the recent death of a migrant in the centre which was caused by diphtheria. On 28 November, Manston asylum seekers with suspected diphtheria were ‘moved around UK’ as cases rose up to 50 despite promises of holding those showing symptoms in “secure isolation hotels”. Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said Braverman “must take responsibility and resign immediately” over the “scandal” surrounding Manston, adding: “The Conservative government should be ashamed of their callous complacency over the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers coming out of Manston”. On 29 November, two asylum seekers have been hospitalised with diphtheria. On the same day, 55 charities including ECRE member, the Refugee Council sent a letter to home secretary Suella Braverman to launch an independent investigation into the crisis that engulfed Manston processing centre.“The home secretary should now initiate an independent inquiry into what happened at Manston and the wider handling of this issue. Like the independent Windrush review it must focus on identifying the key lessons for the Home Office going forward,” the letter says. Another scandal emerged concerning the Home Office’s change of birth dates of unaccompanied child asylum seekers to classify them as adults and send them to Manston where they are detained in “unsafe conditions” for several weeks. One of the 15-year-old boys from Syria who were wrongly held at Manston said: “I’ve never been more frightened than I was in Manston.” Another, from Sudan, added: “It’s the worst place I’ve ever been to”.

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