Home Office latest data on the UK asylum system shows that the vast majority of asylum applicants are granted protection and the backlog is reaching a new record level amid plans to tag new arrivals due to a lack of detention spaces. The government is planning to spend £306m on three new migrant detention centres to house 1,000 asylum seekers despite calls for alternatives to costly and inhumane detention.

Home Office released new data providing the latest figures relating to those subject to the country’s immigration controls in the year ending in June 2023 amid the government’s fears to fail its pledges to “stop the boats” and clear the “legacy backlog”. According to the data, 78,768 applied for asylum in the UK in the year ending June 2023 and the vast majority continued to be granted protection.  “This is higher than at the time of the European migration crisis (36,546 in the U.K. in year ending June 2016) and is the highest number of applications for 2 decades,” the Home Office release noted. The figures also show the backlog is reaching a new record as a total of 175,457 people were waiting for an initial decision on an asylum application in the UK at the end of June 2023. Besides, around £3.6bn was spent on asylum support in 2022-23, according to National Audit Office figures, including around £2.3bn on hotels.

Moreover, only two migrants who arrived in the UK by crossing the English Channel have been deported to Europe under the post-Brexit agreement. Director of ECRE member Refugee Council, Enver Solomon said this number “clearly demonstrates how the Government has failed to establish returns agreements and that its laws to ban the right to asylum are not only unfair and immoral but are utterly unworkable”. Labour also said the new statistics lay bare Rishi Sunak’s “disastrous record” on asylum since taking office and the “complete chaos” the Tories have created in the asylum system. The Refugee Council said the delays were “having a devastating impact on the people we work with, whose lives are put on hold indefinitely while they anxiously wait to hear whether they will be allowed to stay in the UK”. “Even with the Illegal Migration Act fully implemented, under most plausible scenarios arrivals will still outpace removals”, said the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), adding “This will mean a growing population of people permanently in limbo, putting huge pressure on Home Office accommodation and support systems – plus a risk of thousands of people who vanish from the official system and are at risk of exploitation and destitution”.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak continues to give contradictory claims. On the one side, Sunak said that small boat crossings in the first six months of 2023 were 10% down compared to the same period last year, proving that the “plan is working” although channel crossings topped 19,000 for the year so far. On the other side, he stated that “The best way to relieve the unsustainable pressures on our asylum system and unacceptable costs to the taxpayer is to stop the boats in the first place”. However, the PM was unable to confirm whether he will be able to ‘stop by the boats’ by the next general election. “I want it to be done as soon as possible but I also want to be honest with people that it is a complex problem,” he said. Home Secretary, Suella Braverman said the government will “explore all options” to remove asylum seekers from the UK, including sending them to “safe countries” such as Rwanda and fitting asylum seekers with electronic tags. A source from Home Office underlined that while the preferred solution is to increase the number of detention places, electronic tagging has been mooted due to the lack of spaces in detention centres. Another source close to Braverman stated that “we already do it”, referring to the tagging of asylum seekers. The plan outraged charities and some ministers. Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow employment minister, accused the Home Office of planning to treat asylum seekers like “criminals”. Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael said the plan to tag migrants is “another addition to the Conservatives’ immoral, ineffective and unworkable immigration plans”, adding that “Suella Braverman and her Home Office have failed the British people catastrophically and this latest intervention proves it.”

The Home Office is planning to spend £306m on three new migrant detention centres to house 1,000 asylum seekers amid “unprecedented rise of small boat crossings”. Two of the contracts are for centres to hold 360 channel migrants each at a cost of £108m, while a third would house 300 and cost £90m, Daily Mail reported. This plan comes to public attention as The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that community-based alternatives to detention, such as the King Arm’s Project, which since August 2020 supported 75 vulnerable migrants of 23 nationalities, offering them legal advice, clothing, mental health support, English language learning and GP registration while in the community, is more cost-effective and leads to better outcomes. Director of Detention Action, James Wilson, said “The UK’s immigration detention system is indefinite, inhumane and comes at devastating human cost. It is benefitting no one” and urged the Government to “recommit, urgently, to more community-based alternatives to detention.” Yet, Home Office continues to be “committed to the removal of foreign criminals and those with no right to be in the UK”, adding that “Immigration removal centres play a vital role in controlling our borders and we have been finding further solutions to scale up our detention capacity”. Braverman also told the Parliament that she is determined to pursue the immigration detention programmes including barges and ex-military bases. One of the barges currently in use is the giant Bibby Stockholm that briefly accommodated 39 asylum seekers who described the barge as “an unsafe, frightening and isolated place” and made them feel like “criminals” and “second class citizens” causing one of the residents to attempt suicide. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) sent a “pre-action protocol letter” to Braverman outlining its concerns over safety aboard the vessel, which was branded as “a potential deathtrap” especially after the identification of a potentially deadly legionella bacteria. However, Home Secretary defended the barge and told BBC: “Let me be clear that I’m confident barges are safe” and accused the trade union of launching a “political attack” on the Government but was unable to say when asylum seekers would be returning to the barge. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack responded to Braverman’s comments: “We are sounding the alarm over the Bibby Stockholm because it is our duty to do so. Suella Braverman’s comments are a cheap and nasty attempt to undermine this”.

Hundreds of migrants declined NHS treatment after being presented with upfront charges over the past two years, leaving them with “terrible consequences” Data compiled by the Observer shows that, since January 2021, 3,545 patients across 68 hospital trusts in England have been told they must pay upfront charges totaling £7.1m. Of those, 905 patients across 58 trusts did not proceed with treatment. Amardeep Kamboz, head of services at Doctors of the World UK, said: “Access to healthcare to all living in the UK, including secondary care, where we often see the most pressing health issues, should and can be equal, based on need and never dependent on someone’s financial or immigration status”. NHS England is to accept and store “Home Office reference numbers” in the records of “relevant patients”, prompting concerns about potential tracking, privacy rights and the expansion of the “hostile environment” against refugees amid health unions and refugee rights groups. “Tracking migrants and putting their personal medical information at risk, so the Home Office can play bailiff while making the NHS act as immigration enforcement. Migrants are not walking cash machines. They have the same right to privacy as everyone else”, Migrant Voice said.

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