Rishi Sunak's plan to restrict the use of hotels for asylum seekers by making them share rooms is putting the safety of vulnerable people at risk, MPs have warned in a scathing report.
The cross-party group said the compromises made to cut the £8m-a-week bill were “worrying” – warning the Home Office had failed to show it had considered the trauma some may have faced or safety issues. before you force people to join.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also accused the government of not having a “credible” plan to end the use of asylum hotels – despite Immigration Secretary Robert Jenrick boasting of an “exit” strategy just days ago.
The damning report also warned that the big push to clear the backlog of inherited asylum cases risked “more wrong decisions” and could create a new backlog in the courts as decisions were challenged.
It comes as:
- Councilors said local authorities may have to house migrants in the same hotels the government said it would no longer use.
- MPs warned there would still be a backlog of around 84,000 new claims even if inheritance cases were resolved by the end of 2023
- Government tried to bring thousands of Afghans trapped in Pakistan to UK after Islamabad's deportation deadline
The government is believed to have launched flights to bring to Britain thousands of Afghan refugees who have already been granted asylum in the UK but are holed up in Pakistani hotels. Islamabad told them they must leave before November 1 – warning those without visas could be arrested within days.
Mr Sunak ruled that no Afghan should arrive in the UK without sorting their own accommodation – but The independent revealed last week that the government was forced to reverse that decision after a legal challenge, forcing a last-minute scramble to organize flights.
The new influx is expected to put additional pressure on scarce accommodation as the system struggles to cope with a huge backlog of asylum cases.
Mr Jenrick said earlier this week the government had created “thousands of extra beds” by forcing people to share hotel rooms – as he revealed the 400 hotels used to house migrants would be cut by 50 over the next three months.
But the cross-party group of MPs said it was “concerned” that the Home Office “has not put in place a robust process to ensure sharing arrangements are secure” – and warned that “without appropriate safeguards, there could be serious consequences ». .
PAC chair, Labor MP Dame Meg Hillier, said that “the compromises being made by the Home Office to meet its commitments [to clear the backlog] are alarming and some could have serious consequences.”
Emma Birks, campaigns manager at Asylum Matters, said the government had created a “physical and mental health crisis”, saying traumatized people were “crammed together in hotels and other forms of temporary accommodation – children and young people sharing rooms with unknown adults”. . .
Ms Birks added: “The hotels have to be closed. People seeking asylum should be hosted in our communities and allowed to work, rather than being kept in temporary accommodation.”
Steve Smith, chief executive of refugee charity Care4Calais, said: “Packing asylum seekers, many of whom have experienced abuse such as torture and modern-day slavery, into sardine-like rooms with strangers of different nationalities causes a lot of mental stress to asylum seekers on a daily basis.”
The PAC report also accused the department of not having a “credible plan” to end the use of hotels – saying the target of finding 500 new beds each week in a bid to reduce reliance on hotels had not been met, with just 48 new beds. a week on average in the year to April.
Despite Mr Jenrick's announcement that 50 hotels will see their contracts with central government, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that some councils could end up housing migrants in the same hotels.
“If not these hotels, then where?” Shaun Davies, chairman of the LGA told the BBC. “That's the irony in this situation, that one part of the system can boast that they're doing relatively well, but in reality, that's preventing the issue and the cost to local taxpayers.”
Stephen Kinnock MP, Labour's shadow immigration minister, said the Tories' “failed attempts to fix their broken asylum system are now in the open – they have no credible plan to end the use of hotels”.
He added: “This report shows a lack of confidence in ministers to meet their own targets to clear the asylum backlog because they have no serious plan for delivery.”
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael MP said the government had “never had a real plan to tackle the asylum system they broke and instead of finding workable solutions they are just making it worse”.
SNP MP Angela Crawley had written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman to warn of “unsafe” accommodation. “The Home Secretary's incompetence and complete mismanagement of her department is a disgrace,” he said.
Mr Sunak has pledged to clear by the end of 2023 the backlog of past cases that have been in the asylum system since late June last year. By the end of August 2023, the asylum backlog of legacy cases had decreased to approximately 55,000 cases.
However, the PAC report said the Home Office's own analysis suggested that even if the backlog was cleared by the end of the year, there would still be around 84,000 asylum applications in the system after June 2022.
The cross-party panel also claimed that the department introduced “poorly designed questionnaires” – suggesting that people who really should have failed to properly screen their application were at risk.
He warned of increased legal action and said: “People seeking asylum may simply move from one backlog at the Home Office to another backlog elsewhere in the system.”
The British Red Cross had predicted that more than 50,000 refugees in the UK could be homeless by the end of the year, with many already living on the streets due to changes in government support.
Mark Davies of the Refugee Council said: “We are seeing a homelessness crisis unfold with newly recognized refugees being given just seven days before being evicted from accommodation. Granting refugee status in the UK should not be a ticket to homelessness with the cost being passed on to local councils.”
A Home Office spokesman said the government was “working to end the unacceptable use of hotels by moving asylum seekers to alternative, cheaper accommodation and clearing the backlog”.
They added: “We have taken immediate action to speed up asylum processing while maintaining the integrity of the system. This includes simplifying coaching, streamlining processes and introducing shorter, focused interviews.”