Asylum plans to deter “illegal migration” and deport asylum seekers to Rwanda have met legal and political headwind in two major defeats. Asylum seekers continue to report of being “abandoned” and accommodated in prison-like facilities.

Asylum plans of the current conservative government are suffering defeats, one after another. On 29 June, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is unlawful to send asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed. According to the judgment summary: “the decision of the majority is that the deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda are such that there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda will be returned to their home countries where they faced persecution or other inhumane treatment, when, in fact, they have a good claim for asylum. In that sense Rwanda is not a safe third country”. “While I respect the court, I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, arguing that the African country “provided the assurances necessary to ensure there is no real risk that asylum seekers relocated under the Rwanda policy would be wrongly returned to third countries”. Both the PM and Home Secretary Suella Braverman insist that they will do all that they can to proceed with deportations to Rwanda despite the ruling and the extremely high costs of the scheme which reach £169k per person. ECRE member Refugee Council commented on the ruling stating “Instead of pursuing impracticable and costly legislation and policies, the Government should now focus on operating an orderly, humane and fair system”. Charity Freedom from Torture described the judgment as a “victory for everyone who has ever had to flee their home” and added that it will “allow torture survivors & refugees to sleep more safely tonight”. Labour believes that the government’s “Illegal Migration Bill” is now “completely unravelling”, especially since the government has already started preparing for the implementation. Measures taken include the recruitment of new officers to support deportations to Rwanda as well as the passage and implementation of the new law, the creation of an “Illegal Migration Intake Unit” instead of the “National Asylum Intake Unit” and changing the term “asylum seekers” to “illegal entrants”.

The hammer blow to the Rwanda scheme occurred only one day after the majority of members of the House of Lords voted to stop trafficking victims from being deported to Rwanda and a few days after the Welsh Parliament voted against the Illegal Migration Bill, which was described as “cruel”, “callous” and a “ban on asylum” during a debate on the bill. Conservative peer Lord Cormack said the bill would “undermine an international achievement [the 2015 Modern Slavery Act] of far-reaching importance”. Labour peer Lord Coaker said it was “unbelievable” that the amendment even had to be passed, saying that the UK should not be “trashing international conventions we have signed”. Meanwhile, Braverman continues to defend the bill urging “MPs and peers to back the bill to stop the boats” so her government “can crack down on people-smuggling gangs while bringing our asylum system back into balance”. A spokesman for the Home Office also said “We are absolutely committed to making this work, including by ensuring all our staff are well prepared. We continue to bring in more resources and streamline our processes to reduce the backlog and we remain on track to eliminate the legacy asylum backlog by the end of 2023.”

Sunak and Braverman have long called to stop the “small boats” insisting that there are other “safe and legal routes”. However, according to data obtained by the charity Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (Ramfel) 1,386 refugee family reunion applications rejected by the Home Office were overturned on appeal between 2019 and 2022. The number represents 66% of the total of 2,106. Consequently, campaigners raised concerns about the high rate of rejected cases of people using one of the few “safe and legal routes” touted by Braverman. “Suella Braverman and her colleagues insist people should use ‘safe routes’ to come to the UK, yet in practice such routes barely exist. That the vast majority of these refusals are overturned on appeal, year on year, raises serious concerns about the quality of Home Office decision-making”, said Nick Beales, head of campaigning at Ramfel. Besides, “horrific levels of violence and racism” among immigration staff resulted in a sharp increase in their suspension and removal. Reportedly, 102 staff were suspended between January 2020 and mid-February 2023 including 49 last year and seven in the first six weeks of 2023. One officer repeatedly kneed a detainee in the head and told a concerned colleague “There are no cameras”, according to a staff report seen by Sunday Mirror. Campaigners referred to the excessive use of force by immigration staff as “endemic”. Meanwhile, a 19-year-old migrant has gone on trial accused of killing four other migrants who died attempting to cross the English Channel after their boat capsized off the Kent coast. He is facing four charges of manslaughter, another related to piloting the dinghy.

Scottish authorities have condemned the Home Office’s plans to house asylum seekers on a cruise ship in Leith, describing it as a “floating prison”. “Housing asylum seekers in vessels cannot be compared with their use to temporarily accommodate displaced people from Ukraine because of fundamental differences in terms of their rights and agency Scotland’s Migration and Refugees Minister Emma Roddick said noting that people waiting for a decision on their asylum applications face restrictions on the right to work and no access to most mainstream benefits. A Home Office Spokesperson defended the plan arguing that “Individuals are not detained and are free to come and go therefore to describe such accommodation as a prison is wrong”. Moreover, more than 400 Afghan refugees have been told their accommodation in Essex hotels will end in August, triggering fear of homelessness. Colchester Borough Council asked the government to “immediately extend the hotel stays” while the government argued that “hotels were never designed to be long-term accommodation for Afghans resettled in the UK”. Besides, Home Office has been accused of “abandoning 55 asylum seekers with a range of severe disabilities and life-limiting conditions at a former care home in an Essex seaside town”. One asylum seeker told the Guardian that “Everybody is suffering in this place. It used to be a care home but now there is no care. We are free to come and go but to me, this place feels like an open prison. We have just been left here and abandoned”. Home Office responded that it is “committed” to ensuring the safety of asylum seekers including those with a disability, underlining “However, we do not operate care homes nor commission ‘care’ as it is not within our statutory remit. Asylum accommodation providers are contractually obliged to ensure accommodation is accessible for disabled people and where concerns are raised we work with providers to ensure they are addressed”. Besides, despite promises of never accommodating child asylum seekers in hotels “whatsoever”, leaked internal memos reveal Home Office’s plans to unaccompanied asylum seekers to the notorious Brighton hotel from where 136 children were kidnapped. In a leaked memo, a senior asylum official said: “Good news. We will be operational by the 27th June. We can let you know numbers closer to the time once the youngsters start arriving.” Lauren Starkey, an independent social worker, said “There is nothing about this hotel re-opening that is good news. The continued housing of children in these hotels is an abject failure of child protection”. Based on a “rapid reaction” visit to the Manston, Council of Europe’s prevention of torture committee concluded that many asylum seekers may have been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment at the notorious facility in Kent – with a capacity of 1,600 people, but at one point hosting 4,000, with many staying considerably longer than the 24-hour legal time limit.

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