Suella Braverman ‘flailing between gimmicks’ over tents for asylum seekers

Tents idea comes after Home Office ran into problems housing people on barges

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 28 July 2023 19:59 BST
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Suella Braverman (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Suella Braverman (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

The government has been accused of “flailing” between “gimmicks” as Suella Braverman considers yet another scheme to house asylum seekers.

The Home Office has reportedly purchased tents suitable for 2,000 people as part of its push to stop putting migrants in hotels.

The tents plan comes after moves 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.

Faced with negative media coverage and the high cost of keeping people in hotels, the government has searched for alternatives to house asylum seekers while their claims are being processed.

Labour’s 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.

The Times, which first reported the purchase of the tents, cited government sources saying a similar proposal to house migrants in marquees was rejected last year due to warnings it would trigger legal challenges based on inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. The newspaper said some in governemnt 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 block-booked hotels, incurring significant expense.

Human 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.

“The winners from this cruel plan will be the Home Office’s asylum housing contractors, who trouser tens of millions of pounds in taxpayer-subsidised profits as standards continue to plummet.

“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 to have their claims assessed quickly and justly and be housed in safe homes in our communities.”

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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