The government has made two announcements about refugees and asylum seekers this week.
The first is the plan to move Afghan refugees, flown from Kabul following the Taliban takeover, most of whom have a close link to the UK, from the hotels that they have been living in for 18 months.
Of course, vulnerable families should not have to live indefinitely in hotels, with no ability to build a new life.
But the real problem is not people’s willingness to move. It is finding affordable housing for people to move into. While the announcement talks about refugees turning down suitable houses, most have not been offered anywhere to move to, and nor is it likely that they will in the next few months.
The government must provide more support to these refugees, who have already suffered so much trauma. They should be supported to move, but not punished or threatened if affordable housing is not available. They must be allowed to find suitable, settled accommodation, and be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety. And the government must guarantee that no refugee will be made homeless as a result of this announcement.
The second announcement relates to asylum seekers, many but not all of whom have crossed the Channel in small boats. These are the people targeted by last year’s Nationality and Borders Act and by this year’s Illegal Migration Bill, a de facto ban on the right to seek asylum in the UK. The government is seeking to criminalise and punish people fleeing war, torture and trafficking. They choose to ignore the fact that the vast majority of asylum seekers are able to demonstrate that they are genuinely fleeing for their lives and are granted protection.*
But the government has declared them all to be “illegal”. It wants asylum seekers to be taken out of hotels and put into disused military barracks. The expansion of camp-like accommodation is in itself deeply worrying. We have seen this with Napier Barracks, Penally Camp and Manston Processing Centre, where dangerous overcrowding and contagious infections led to humanitarian crises. People seeking asylum have the right to live in dignity and security, and it is the responsibility of the government to ensure this.
But the real issue is not where people are accommodated. It is the fact that their right to claim asylum, recognised under international law, is being denied by this government and that they are being judged because of how they got here, not what they have fled from.
What we should be doing instead is developing a comprehensive and humane policy that creates safe routes for people seeking sanctuary, works with other governments to stop people smuggling, addresses the huge and growing backlog of asylum claims, houses arrivals in suitable accommodation and gives asylum seekers the right to work so they can be productive and fulfilled while they wait.
Replacing hotels with ill-suited camps offers no solution. It is more callous ‘headline-chasing’ that does nothing to address the underlying issue. We call on all politicians of conscience, including Tories, to oppose these plans.
*According to official figures, just over three-quarters (76%) of the initial decisions in the year ending June 2022 were grants (of asylum, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave).