The UK government’s plans to move asylum seekers from hotels to alternative accommodation, including military barracks, have been met with controversy. Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick announced the plans, billed as a “move to rudimentary accommodation,” this week as a way to reduce the £6.2m daily cost of housing asylum seekers in hotels.
The new locations include ferries, barges, ex-military bases, disused cruise ships, empty holiday parks and former student halls, with the capacity to house 1,500-2,000 migrants, with more being used for new arrivals than to rehouse people currently in hotels. However, the plans have been criticised by several Members of Parliament (MPs) and government officials.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has already criticised plans to house asylum seekers at the base near the village of Wethersfield in his Essex constituency of Braintree, which the BBC has reported is now going ahead. Mr Cleverly said the site was “inappropriate” because it was remote and had limited transport infrastructure.
Tory MP, Sir Edward Leigh, criticised the RAF Scampton site’s choice near the village of Scampton in Lincolnshire.
Government sources say each site will have the capacity to house 1,500-2,000 migrants, and initially are more are likely to be used for new arrivals rather than to rehouse people currently in hotels.
The government’s plans to reduce the number of asylum seekers arriving in the UK through unauthorised means have been laid out in the Illegal Migration Bill, which is being debated in Parliament. The legislation aims to stop migrants from claiming asylum in the UK if they arrive through unauthorised means, such as by crossing the English Channel in small boats. Asylum seekers could be detained without bail or judicial review for 28 days before being removed to their home country or a third country like Rwanda.
The move away from hotels to alternative accommodation comes after the UK’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, revealed that thousands of armed forces personnel are living in sub-standard accommodation due to decades of under-investment by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The watchdog’s report in 2021 highlighted issues with basic needs such as heating and hot water, and a backlog of £1.5bn in repairs. Despite the MoD planning to spend £1.5bn on renovation work over the next 10 years, the NAO said it could be “some time” before significant improvements were seen because of long-term under-investment.
The announcement of the plans to move asylum seekers to alternative accommodation has been met with controversy, with critics arguing that the government is neglecting its responsibilities to provide adequate accommodation for both asylum seekers and military personnel. The move away from hotels to alternative accommodation is a step towards reducing costs and finding solutions to the ongoing issue of asylum seekers arriving in the UK through unauthorised means. However, the government must ensure that any alternative accommodation provided is safe, secure, and meets basic needs.
The controversy surrounding the government’s plans to move asylum seekers from hotels to alternative accommodation has been compounded by revelations that a former military site, Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, which was repurposed as asylum seeker accommodation in 2020, was deemed not to meet “acceptable standards for accommodation” ten years ago, according to documents. Additionally, a report in 2014 by CgMs Consulting found that the blocks, built at the end of the 19th century, ”were never intended for long-term use” and should be demolished. The report noted that the reuse of barrack buildings would require investment in both the fabric of the structures and services to support any reuse.
AOAV believes that. as the government moves forward with its plans to find alternative accommodation for asylum seekers and invest in military housing, it must ensure that it is meeting its obligations to provide safe and secure housing for all vulnerable groups. The government must also ensure that any measures taken to regulate immigration are consistent with international law and respect the rights and dignity of all individuals seeking asylum in the UK.
Given many of these individuals are fleeing conflicts that previous British governments were involved in, to do any less would be a failure of care and an abrogation of basic decency and human rights.
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