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Vessels and barracks: Home Office asylum accommodation announcements


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Over the past week the Home Office have announced a number of plans to re-accommodate asylum seekers, culminating in yesterday’s announcement of an “accommodation barge”. 

So far the government has announced substitute accommodation to hotels at:

When and if all sites are up and running (most likely not at full capacity until the end of 2023), they will apparently be able to host about 5,400 asylum seekers, combined. All of these 5,400 will be single adult males.

By comparison, the Home Office’s own data shows that there were around 89,000 people that claimed asylum in the UK in 2022, and over 110,000 people in the UK that have been waiting over 6 months for a decision on their application. The Home Office’s own fact sheets about the above sites, says that there are around 45,000 asylum seekers currently housed in hotels. To put this into context, there were over 51,000 people seeking asylum in the UK from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria (nationalities where asylum grant rates are around 90%) at the end of 2022. You can read more about the backlog and recent Home Office statistics here.

The government has explored the use of vessels for some time. The idea was previously recycled and ruled out by the Treasury when Rishi Sunak was Chancellor, and last year the Home Office also rejected plans to house asylum seekers on vessels because it could prove to be more expensive than using hotels, which costs around £6 million a day (as of the end of 2022).

At a time when the UK is spending one third of its overseas aid budget on domestic asylum costs, these suggested alternatives to hotel accommodation don’t seem to hold out much hope for a new budgetary or safeguarding agenda – only a continuation of the use of press in the hope it deters new arrivals.

What many of the government’s announcements don’t make clear is that most of these are not a done deal, just yet. And it would not be surprising if we saw litigation, including from local authorities, on a number of aspects of these sites, as we have done with hotel accommodation. Whether this is a deterrence tactic for asylum seekers, or a distraction tactic for prospective voters, what is clear is that this will not be an effective solution; the only way to reduce the number of asylum seekers in the UK is to dedicate time and resources to clearing the backlog of asylum claims. 

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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