We reported in November’s Newsletter than the Home Office was increasing the number of immigration centres to house asylum seekers: two mothballed detention centres (in Oxfordshire and Hampshire) are to be reopened next year. Manston detention centre on a former RAF base in Kent has hit the headlines. Built to house 1,600 asylum seekers for a few days’ assessment before they were sent to hotels and hostels around the UK, in early November it was holding around 4,000 and has now been emptied after reports of appalling conditions, outbreaks of diphtheria, norovirus and scabies, and the death of a resident from diphtheria. The government are now facing a judicial review over the conditions and there are likely to be legal claims for damages by asylum seekers held there.
The root problem is the glacial speed of processing of asylum seekers’ claims. Currently, around 140,000 are waiting and only four per cent of the claims of those who arrived last year have been processed. This huge backlog of migrants are living in hotels, hostels and temporary accommodation at a cost of at least £7mn a day. In an extraordinary admission, the Home Secretary admitted ‘the system is broken.’ She also said she would not prematurely release asylum seekers into local communities without anywhere to stay, before a group were dumped without accommodation at Victoria bus station. A number of local councils have also attempted – so far without success – to obtain injunctions in the High Court to prevent local hotels being taken over for asylum seekers without prior consultation.
More than 110 refugee charities have written to the Home Secretary calling for a more ‘kind and effective’ system for asylum seekers. Care4Calais, for example, has proposed an online screening process and issuing travel visas as a way of bringing refugees and asylum seekers to the UK safely and of ending the business model of people smugglers. It is worth noting in this context that only eight per cent of decided claims by small boat asylum seekers are refused.