As key EU member states reject the idea of entering bilateral readmission agreements with the UK, Home Secretary Priti Patel’s controversial plan to overhaul the asylum system is facing headwind. MPs from across the aisle warn of “inefficient and inhumane” state of asylum housing in the UK and demand the removal of the Home Office oversight. Reports of the Home Office’s mismanagement of the Napier and Penally sites continue to mount.

According to the Home Secretary’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ presented to the parliament on 24 March, any asylum claims from people arriving irregularly to the UK would be deemed inadmissible and their removal from the UK would be pushed. However, a British request for a migration pact replacing the Dublin regulation and allowing the UK to return asylum seekers to other European countries was rejected in August 2020 and key member states including Belgium, France and Germany now reject the idea of bilateral readmission agreements. Belgium’s asylum and migration secretary, Sammy Mahdi stated: “The UK chose to leave the EU and therefore cannot continue to count on our European solidarity. We cannot be expected simply to agree on the return of these migrants.” The position of Germany and France is that readmissions is a question for the EU rather than individual member states. “The EU will not budge on this. They have no sympathy for Britain on this because they realise Britain played fast and loose on this during Brexit, and they have taken much bigger numbers”, said former British MEP, Claude Moraes adding: “The reason the UK is talking about bilateral deals is entirely political, for the press. As long as they talk about bilateral deals they can fool people into thinking they’ve got some kind of EU plan up their sleeve”.

MPs representing the Conservative party as well as Labour and SNP have raised alarm over “inhumane, inefficient and expensive” asylum housing in the UK claiming Priti Patel’s new plan given its “poverty of ambition” will worsen rather than fix the problems. During a parliamentary debate on 27 April numerous MPs spoke out on a variety of problems related to housing of asylum seekers including unequal distribution across the country, the lack of support for vulnerable people and “totally inappropriate” living conditions, demanding that the Home Office oversight should be revoked: “The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) might be better placed to provide some supported accommodation and local authorities are often overlooked by this authoritarian centralised government”, said Labour MP Neil Coyle. The report ‘I sat watching life go by my window for so long’ published by ECRE member the British Refugee Council focuses on the situation for 8,700 people accommodated in 90 hotels across the UK during the pandemic. The Refugee Council states: “people have routinely lacked basic essentials such as shoes and coats, have been confined to their rooms for days on end while waiting for their one set of clothing to be cleaned, and have been left unable to access even basic healthcare despite many having complex health needs”. According to the council it: “has been working with hundreds of people seeking asylum in hotels and has witnessed the decline in people’s mental health resulting from their experiences, leading some to self-harm and experience suicidal thoughts”. The report further points to limitation in access to legal assistance and health risks linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final inspection report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) on the Napier barracks and the now closed Penally detention site seen by The Guardian, and correspondence sent by the outgoing chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt reveal “serious mistakes” and “fundamental failures of leadership and planning” in the management of the Home Office. The HMIP report blames cramped conditions at the Napier barracks for a severe COVID-19 outbreak, and points to the lack of safe-guards for vulnerable detainees, risks of self-harm, inexperienced staff, and lack of oversight by the Home Office in an environment on both sites that: was impoverished, run down and unsuitable for longterm accommodation”. Stuart McDonald, SNP MP and member of the home affairs select committee, said: “The Home Office simply dumped hundreds of vulnerable people in totally unsuitable accommodation – and dangerous given the global health pandemic – and washed its hands of responsibility by leaving completely unequipped subcontractors to take charge.” A spokesperson for the Home Office that has faced recent legal action denied to comment: “whilst legal proceedings are ongoing”.

In the largest arrival in a single day in 2021 – nine small boats carrying 209 people crossed the Channel on 28 April. According to the Home Office another 166 people were prevented from crossing by French authorities. More than 1,850 people have reached the UK by boat in 2021.

For further information:

Photo: (CC) Jeff Djevdet, February 2016

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