‘Migrant marquees’: Braverman accused of new low in government’s ‘stop the boats’ plan

Home secretary buys tents to house 2,000 migrants expected in summer surge across the English Channel

Kate Devlin,Jon Stone
Friday 28 July 2023 22:35 BST
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Suella Braverman gives statement to Commons after Rwanda policy deemed unlawful

Suella Braverman has been accused of “shocking” and “cruel” plans over a proposal to house asylum seekers in tents.

The Home Office is working on contingency plans to use marquees, ahead of an expected rise in the number of people arriving across the English Channel by small boats.

It is thought they would be used if necessary to avoid expensive last-minute hotel bookings.

But Labour accused ministers of “flailing” between “gimmicks” which proved the government’s plans to “stop the boats” were failing.

Writing in The Independent, former justice secretary Lord Falconer warned that “creating tented refugee camps in disused army bases around the country… [is] against the law”.

Refugee charities accused the home secretary of trying to “demonise people seeking asylum”.

And Labour’s Lord Dubs, who arrived in the UK as a child refugee, told The Independent the move risked creating another camp like that seen in Calais, and which was dubbed the “Jungle”.

“The procurement of tents is a complete sign of the failure of the government’s policy. Will it end up like Calais? Absolutely. To put people in tents – even if the tents are better than anything (in Calais) ... – it’s still pretty shocking,” he said.

Home secretary Suella Braverman (PA )

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas described it as “another poisonous and performative measure” which “debases asylum seekers rather than treats them like human beings”.

Despite the prime minister’s vow to “stop the boats” more than 14,000 people have made the journey so far this year.

The tents plan comes after a Home Office move to house people on barges moored off-shore stalled because the vessels have struggled to find anywhere to dock.

A spokesperson for the department said it was “looking at a range of accommodation options” to replace the use of hotels, following a backlash over costs.

Rights groups blasted the “cruel” plans and said people should be housed safely.

Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: “It’s staggering the home secretary plans to use what a government source compared to a concentration camp to house people seeking asylum – in the same week courts ruled she broke the law three times with her inhumane treatment of refugees.

“This is yet another way the government has developed to demonise people seeking asylum, which is rooted in its deeply racist approach to refugee protection.

“It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that people who have fled violence, torture and persecution have their claims assessed quickly and justly and are housed in safe homes in our communities.”

He said the “winners” from the “cruel plan” would be contractors making millions from taxpayers.

The Times, which first reported the purchase of the tents, which it said could accommodate up to 2,000 people, cited government sources saying a similar proposal to house migrants in marquees was rejected last year because of warnings it would trigger legal challenges based on inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. The newspaper also said some in government had compared the idea to concentration camps.

Officials say that the tents are not meant for routine use, but are there as a contingency in the event of a surge in channel crossings. On previous occasions the government has booked hotel rooms at the last minute, incurring significant expense.

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told LBC that the backlog of cases at the Home Office had soared and accused Ms Braverman of indulging in “gimmicks”.

“We’ve seen them really flailing around with the barges, the bases, the tents now, and actually all this is alongside increasing hotel use when they should be ending hotel use,” she said,

“Because they’re simply not taking asylum decisions. They’ve let the backlog soar.”

Ms Cooper said the home secretary’s actions appeared to show that “even the government doesn’t believe” that its latest legal crackdown on people crossing the channel on small boats would work.

She added: “Instead, [it] is just going to increase the backlog. That’s just going to cause more problems. We need grip, not gimmicks.”

A huge backlog of claims at the Home Office means that at the end of 2022 there were around 132,000 asylum applications awaiting an initial decision in the UK, comprising around 161,000 people.

A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6m a day.

“We continue to work across government and with local authorities to look at a range of accommodation options. Accommodation offered to asylum seekers, on a no-choice basis, meets our legal and contractual requirements.”

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