Rishi Sunak’s illegal migration bill will make Britain’s migration crisis “significantly worse” by the next election and create a “permanent backlog” of asylum seekers, a leading think tank has warned.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said the Illegal Migration Act 2023 will cast thousands of asylum seekers into “permanent limbo”, leaving them in need of continual government support such as accommodation and financial assistance.
The act, which the prime minister hopes will help the government meet its pledge to “stop the boats”, prevents those who arrive using irregular routes such as channel crossings from claiming asylum in the UK.
Instead, arrivals will be detained and removed to either their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.
But, in a threat to Mr Sunak’s hope that his approach to asylum seekers will deter small boat crossings, the IPPR has warned there is “little realistic prospect” most of those arriving by irregular routes will be returned home or removed to other countries – even if the government’s Rwanda policy is deemed lawful.
Instead, the bill will mean migrants arriving in the UK are trapped in an indefinite limbo, with no path to asylum but who the government cannot compel to leave.
As well as leaving thousands of asylum seekers effectively trapped in the UK and not allowed to work, the IPPR warned the Illegal Migration Act would create huge costs for the government.
Even if a high number of migrants were sent from the UK to countries such as Rwanda, the cost of housing those who remain would top £5bn a year.
If relatively few were removed, the cost of accommodating those affected by the Illegal Migration Act would be more than £6bn annually.
Around £3.6bn was spent on asylum support in 2022-23, according to National Audit Office figures, including around £2.3bn on hotels.
And while the government has promised to tackle the current backlog of 130,000 asylum claims, the IPPR is warning the Illegal Migration Act will create a new, permanent backlog.
IPPR associate director for migration Marley Morris said ministers have a “very narrow window!” for success on asylum.
She said: “Even with the Illegal Migration Act fully implemented, under most plausible scenarios arrivals will still outpace removals.
“This will mean a growing population of people permanently in limbo, putting huge pressure on Home Office accommodation and support systems – plus a risk of thousands of people who vanish from the official system and are at risk of exploitation and destitution.”
And with a general election expected next year, Ms Morris warned any incoming government will face a “dire and increasingly costly challenge” it would need to “urgently address”.
Charity Refugee Action said ministers have been repeatedly warned the “cruel” asylum policy will “bring misery to refugees, cost taxpayers billions and force people into the margins of society”.
Fundraising head Ali Noyce said: “Hostile deterrence policies will never work because a tiny minority of people fleeing war and persecution around the world will always want to come to the UK to seek safety.”
Refugee charity Care4Calais said ministers are “choosing to spend money on human misery”.
Chief executive Steve Smith said an “effective and compassionate” system would be cheaper than the Tories’ “proxy-war against refugees”.
“Meanwhile the human cost is being felt by the survivors of war, torture and modern slavery whose lives are being left in limbo,” he added.
And Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said the Illegal Migration Act is a “con which will not solve the chaos in the immigration system”.
He said: “It will make it worse, keeping more people locked in limbo waiting for years for asylum decisions and the taxpayer left footing an almighty bill.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Illegal Migration Act will help to clear the asylum backlog by allowing us to detain and swiftly remove those who arrive here illegally. While we operationalise the measures in the Act, we continue to remove those with no right to be here through existing powers.
“We are also on track to clear the ‘legacy’ backlog of asylum cases. It has been reduced by a nearly a third since the start of December and we have doubled the number of asylum decision-makers in post over the past two years.”
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