Labour’s new migration policies include a closer cooperation with EU, ending the use of hotels and treating smugglers as terrorists. An investigation reveals Home Office’s “complete failure” to identify and protect vulnerable migrant detainees while a public inquiry into Brook House immigration detention centres identified “toxic culture”. Home Secretary dismissed “extremely critical” independent inspector of borders amid ongoing plans to detain and remove children to Rwanda. The cost of hotels rose up to t£8m a day despite promises to stop the use of hotels as alarming conditions persist.
Leader of UK’s Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has been revealing details of how his government would tackle the “migration crisis” if it gets into power as the Tories have “no control over UK borders”. He suggested closer cooperation with the EU by accepting quotas of asylum-seekers from the zone, paying for more asylum caseworkers to help clear the backlog of more than 175,000 asylum-seekers awaiting an initial decision, stop treating people involved in channel crossings as “terrorists” and ending the use of hotels. He also critisiced the current government’s plans to expel asylum seekers to so-called “safe countries” and called it “inhumane” while underlining that the right to asylum would be restored under labour’s governance. Starmer later denied that the UK is joining the EU quota saying “We’re not an EU member and that wasn’t what I was talking about”. An EU source said that EU won’t make an asylum returns deal unless UK takes in thousands of migrants and the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that labour would be willing to accept people from mainland Europe as part of an EU-wide returns deal insisting that the focus would be on returning children to their families in the country and would not involve signing up to be a member of the EU’s quota system. “What we are talking about is having a negotiation around a returns agreement where, for example, we think that should look at family reunion for children who have family in the UK who currently have no safe legal route to be able to join that family in the UK”, she said. These plans sparked attacks from Conservative MPs, who claimed Labour’s plans could result in an extra 100,000 migrants coming to Britain from the EU every year. The claims were described by the Labour’s leader as “nonsense” and by Cooper as “fiction”. Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, called Labour’s plans “a cheap stunt to deceive the public [which] will not solve the problem”. Head of ECRE member Refugee Council, Enver Solomon wrote in an op-ed that “Keir Starmer drew a clear dividing line between his party and the government”, adding that he should “choose to lead the world in taking a multilateral stance that emphasises the importance of a shared humanity that underpins the refugee convention – and moves away from the pull-up-the-drawbridge enforcement response that currently prevails”. CEO of Care4Calais, Steve Smith, said that Starmer’s statements “mirror the gimmicks and divisive rhetoric employed by the Conservatives, adding that “Smash the gangs” may get him a headline in the Sun, but it’s not a plan. It’s no better than the prime minister’s vacuous “stop the boats” slogan”. “It’s clear that neither Starmer nor Sunak understand the causes and effects of the global refugee crisis”, Smith underlined.
An investigation by Liberty Investigates and Open Democracy reveals that Home Office hasn’t implemented any measures to prevent deaths at a Heathrow immigration removal centre recommended after two suicide attempts four years ago. Both organisations referred to “Home Office’s “complete failure” to identify and protect vulnerable people in detention especially in reference to a recent tragedy in which 39-year-old Frank Ospina from Colombia took his own life within a month of detention in Heathrow immigration removal while he was waiting to be deported. His sister Rios Ospina said “My brother was a civil engineer who graduated from the best public university in Colombia. He was hard-working and very intelligent. They took him to the limit of sanity”, underlining that “He didn’t ask for help – he begged for help, not only to us, but also to the people there”. Days after the death of Ospina, Internal documents also pointed out to an “attempted mass suicide” took place in protest of the “extreme levels of distress” in detention. The investigation also found Home Office staff and senior detention centre managers did not, despite being invited, turn up to a key safety meeting in the wake of Ospina’s death. Nasrin Warsame, a policy and research coordinator at Bail for Immigration Detainees, said: “Given the government’s plan to expand the detention estate and detain and deport all new small boat arrivals through the Illegal Migration Act, the growing cohort of people detained will likely be more vulnerable people, such as people escaping from war, persecution, and victims of trafficking. Our government should be working to ensure people who arrive receive safety, dignity and welcome, not actively facilitating the opposite”. ”. In early September, a 21-year-old queer Omani woman, Rima Al-Badi took her own life while and was found in hotel accommodation awaiting for a decision on her asylum application. “She had tried many times before. The staff at the hotel knew about it and reported it to the Home Office – the hospital sent her back to the hotel every time,” Badi’s friend Dev said in a statement. Human rights campaigner Nabhan al-Hanshi had met with Badi a few days before her death said: ““I think one of the reasons she committed suicide was that she felt hopeless. I was surprised when she told me that for more than a year… she didn’t even get her first interview,” he said, referring to the Home Office”.
On 19 September, the first public inquiry into abuses at a UK immigration detention centre, Brook House near Gatwick Airport, identified a “toxic culture” and numerous breaches of human rights laws relating to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as the use of racist, derogatory language by some staff towards detainees. Inquiry chair Kate Eves called for many sweeping changes including the introduction of a 28-day time limit on immigration detention, improvement of oversight of Home Office contracts and clarification of rules, and the use of force as a last resort. Eves shared one of the most “shocking” incidents where a detention custody officer, Yan Paschali, placed his hands firmly around the neck of a detained person, leaned forward over him and said in a quiet voice: “You fucking piece of shit, because I’m going to put you to fucking sleep”. Eves added: “Under the Home Office and its contractor G4S, Brook House was not sufficiently decent, secure or caring for detained people or its staff at the time these events took place. An environment flourished in which unacceptable treatment became more likely”. Home Secretary, Braverman said she acknowledged the “failings in both oversight and governance to protect the welfare of detained individuals” at the centre while referring to “significant improvements” made at Brook House since 2017. A G4S spokesperson said it would “carefully consider” the inquiry’s recommendations, claiming “The vast majority of employees at Brook House immigration removal centre were focused on the wellbeing of the detained people and carried out their duties to a high standard, often in exceptionally challenging circumstances”. Refugee Council commented on the inquiry’s findings: “The damning inquiry into a Government-run immigration removal centre has not only exposed grave safeguarding failures but shown clearly that the Home Office is not able to provide basic levels of care and humanity for vulnerable people in detention”, adding “It should be unthinkable that the Government is planning on detaining more people than ever before under its Illegal Migration Act, including families and children”.
Home Office published its Annual Accounts revealing that the cost of housing migrants in hotels has risen to £8m a day despite promises to stop the use of hotels. In March this year, BBC learned around 400 hotels were being used, costing nearly £7m a day. A government source said the new figures showed “why we’ve got to get migrants out of hotels and stop the boats”. Labour’s shadow home secretary, accused the Conservatives of “busting the Home Office budget, breaking the asylum system, and the British people are paying the price”. “Shockingly, the cost of hotel accommodation has gone up by a third since Rishi Sunak promised to end hotel use,” she added. Moreover, Open Democracy revealed that Home Office has stopped providing food to Afghan refugees who are still residing in hotels. This move followed the government’s decision to end the use of hotels to house more than 8,000 Afghans brought to the UK under its resettlement scheme by September. One migrant told Open Democracy that due to absence of fridges or cooking facilities, his family has to rely on takeaways for hot food. “We are far from the centre and there is nothing but pizza and burger takeaways nearby,” he told Open Democracy. “I feel terrible that this is all my children eat now – it is not suitable for them”. Besides, a report by Gillette shows that Home Office has been determining the ages of migrants depending on the time they start shaving. The practice was revealed in the hearing of an appeal from an Afghan asylum seeker who was challenging a Home Office age assessment that had declared him nine years older than he was. The asylum seeker, who arrived in the UK when he was under the age of 18, was determined as a 25-year-old young man by two immigration officers. A judge later determined that his real age at the time of his arrival in the UK was 16, after scrutinising the Home Office’s age assessment process and copies of identity documents provided calling it “guesswork and speculation”. Reportedly, new scientific methods for age assessments will be introduced, including x-rays of bones and teeth from 2024.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary, Braverman told David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration that he will not be reappointed in 2024. Neal last year claimed the Home Office’s handling of channel crossing had been “inexcusably awful”. Internal emails obtained by Open Democracy reveal that Home Office officials branded the independent inspector as “excessively critical”. “The overall tone of your foreword [to the report] is excessively critical. It amplifies the challenges and qualifies the positive findings,” the Home Office’s director general of immigration enforcement, Tony Eastaugh, told Neal in February 2022. Besides, the Government has refused to rule out the detention and removal of children to Rwanda despite facing pressure from a cross-party committee of MPs to abandon any intention to do so including from the Women and Equalities Committee who urged the Government to set out plans to mitigate the risks of harm to vulnerable asylum seekers who be at higher risk under the “Illegal Migration Act”. Home Office defended its approach and even ignored MPs’ plea for better treatment of mothers, pregnant women and babies in the asylum system. Women and Equalities Committee Chair, Caroline Nokes MP, said: “Today we hear the Government remains unwilling to rule out entirely plans to detain child asylum seekers or their removal to Rwanda. It is deeply disappointing that the Government has not listened to the concerns raised in our report on the risks of harm to children in the asylum system”.
For further information:
- ECRE, UK: Latest Home Office Data Reveals Record-breaking Backlog and Increased Spending Amid New Plans to Expand Detention Spaces & Unpractical Promises to Stop the Boats, September 2023
- ECRE, UK: Passage of “Illegal Migration Bill” Sparks Outrage, “Unfair” Policy Announced to Raise Public Sector Pay by Increasing Immigration Visa Applications Amid New Plans to House Asylum Seekers in Prison-Like Accommodation, July 2023