The UK’s current government has broken its own asylum system to deflect governance failures. Home Office is hiring people with experience in customer service and sales to conduct interviews with asylum seekers and take “life or death” decisions on their applications, in an attempt to clear the backlog. Reports of hunger, trauma, illness and ill-treatment at the country’s accommodations continue to arise as the UK and France are reportedly set to close a deal to curb “illegal” migration.

The scrutiny of the horrific state of the asylum system in the UK continues. And it is not “because there are too many migrants” as Immigration Minister claimed that the “root cause of what we’re seeing at Manston is the number of channel arrivals, but “because the government has broken its own asylum system”, Guardian columnist, Nesrine Malik wrote on 7 November in her op-ed challenging the conservative narrative on migration and refugees. “This is a crisis by design” that “the government has every interest in maintaining or at least no pressing interest in resolving” Malik wrote, adding: “The Tories have finessed a narrative in which the country is under a migrant siege that the government is trying valiantly to rebuff” while they are struggling to run away from their “failures to “maintain living standards and public infrastructure, from health to housing”. According to ECRE member Scottish Refugee Council, the government’s neglect of the collapsing system is accelerated by: “the accumulated impact of hostile environment policies, long under-resourcing of asylum decision-making teams which led to a jaw-dropping backlog, the increasingly depraved language used to talk about asylum seekers and the new laws to dismantle the right to asylum and punish people who claim it”. As the UK government is under fire, the Joint Committee on Human Rights launched an inquiry to examine the Government’s policies and procedures relating to asylum seekers and the impact these have on their human rights.

Revelations about the “wretched” conditions in Manston and hotels used by the Home Office for reception continue to emerge. Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak admitted to parliament last week that “not enough” asylum applications are being processed. According to the PM the government has increased the number of “processing officials” by 80%, with another 500 to be appointed by March. A recent investigation by the Observer reveals that the Home Office is hiring asylum decision-makers from customer service and sales positions at McDonald’s, Tesco and Aldi as part of a recruitment drive to clear its huge backlog of asylum applications which is blamed for the severe overcrowding at Manston processing centres and hotels. The new employees, have ” no prior experience or knowledge of the asylum system” and are hired through online advertising and recruitment agencies and left to conduct “complex interviews” and make “life or death” decisions. The Home Office “stays focused” on reaching the target: “to treble the number of decisions made by each caseworker from 1.3 a week to four”. Meanwhile, Home Office contractors “have been disciplined after trying to sell illegal drugs to asylum seekers at the crisis-hit processing centre at Manston in Kent”. Braverman “has completely lost control of the asylum system”, opposition party, Labour stated after the latest “shocking” revelations. Home Secretary Braverman stated: “It is not right that the British people are picking up a £2bn bill every year because the asylum system has been broken by an unprecedented wave of illegal migration. “We still have a long way to go, but these steps show our commitment to tackling the asylum backlog. Processing claims more quickly will help remove those who illegally come here from safe countries, while also ensuring those in genuine need receive our protection”.

Meanwhile, testimonies from victims of hunger, illness, sleep deprivation and trauma at Manson and other temporary accommodations continue. “Staying here is intolerable”, says Ali, an asylum seeker who spent almost 500 days in a hotel awaiting his asylum claim to be processed. Ali is one of the at least 37,000 asylum seekers who are currently stranded in hotels and live on as little as £1 a day. “Long delays leave people like Ali trapped in unsuitable accommodation for months or even years on end, unable to work, put down roots in their community, or move on with their lives. This is incredibly damaging to their mental health, causing unnecessary suffering and a real waste of human potential”, says Director of ECRE member Refugee Council. Another 29-year-old asylum named Samuel, a resident at Manston, spoke of “grim” conditions where toilets are dirty with no toilet paper, showers and meals are cold and people have to search for cardboard to sleep on. Home Office minister Chris Philp even said asylum seekers had “a bit of cheek” for complaining about conditions at Manston. Furthermore, refugees and support workers say that the UK’s helpline for asylum seekers, which handles complaints about accommodation and requests for assistance, is “torment” as their calls are faced with excessive delays. The NGO handling the Home Office-funded helpline said: “it was missing its target of answering 90% of calls on time because of “significantly higher” demand than anticipated, adding that it had expanded its team in order to cope”.

Following Braverman’s order to “relieve pressure” on Manston, a group of at least 45 asylum seekers who had arrived in the UK crossing the Channel were removed from the migration center in Kent to be taken to the capital and left at a bus station on 1 November without being informed about “where they were, where they could go for safety or given any money”. “These people had been forced from their homes due to war, famine and persecution, and had struggled to reach the UK in hopes of safety. Abandoned in a strange place by those who were supposed to protect them, it is fair to imagine they were confused, disoriented, and afraid”, said Sophie Cartwright of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK. On 2 November, hundreds of asylum seekers were moved out from the centre in two different buses. Some were offered an alternative shelter and others had to sleep rough in the street. At least 18 asylum seekers were found in the street including seven of the “highly vulnerable” group with no family or friends after spending two nights outdoors. On 6 November, a senior cabinet minister announced that Manston asylum processing centre is “expected to be back within capacity in days”, as reported, at the expense of asylum seekers who were moved from the facility and left out without shelter. “We continue to make good progress removing people from that facility… The situation is being dealt with”, said Chancellor Oliver Dowden. However, councils, NGOs and rights institutions are frustrated and outraged at the way the government “dealt” with Manston. “The government first incarcerated refugees in appalling and dangerous conditions; then it made some of these refugees destitute, homeless, and abandoned, someone else’s problem. This was an act of callous inhumanity. It sits at the feet of and reflects a deeply imbedded government policy of intentional cruelty towards refugees”, said Sophie Cartwright adding: “What problem did they imagine they were solving? Clearly not that vulnerable people did not have a safe place to sleep. Whoever saw this as a solution did not see human suffering as the issue requiring resolution”. The UK’s treatment of asylum seekers must comply with “international laws”, members of the UN Human Rights Council said. Also, New Zealand urged the UK to ensure its “treatment of asylum seekers is consistent with its humanitarian responsibilities and commitments under international human rights law and international refugee law”. As asylum seekers continue to report of inhumane treatment by Home Office, UK Justice Minister Mike Freer responded to UN criticism underlining the UK’s “long and proud tradition” of welcoming people in “genuine need of asylum” as well as the “enormous” challenges its asylum system has been facing for the past decade.

Meanwhile, the UK announced that a joint plan with France aimed at stopping migrants from crossing from France to the UK is close to “final stages”. No further details have been provided so far. This deal allegedly came following Rishi Sunak’s first meeting as prime minister with French President Emmanuel Macron. Following this meeting, Sunak said there was “not one simple solution” to tackling the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats underlining the importance of cooperation between European countries on “illegal” migration. The Elysee Palace said the two leaders agreed “to advance co-ordination to face the challenge of irregular migration”.

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