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19 May 2023

Asylum accommodation: what’s going on?

The question of where to accommodate newly arrived people in the UK or people who are awaiting Home Office decisions has been a contentious one for some time. Hostility has been simmering away about the use of hotels and now seems to be at a boiling point. 

In March, Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, announced Government plans to “significantly reduce the number of people requiring accommodation in hotels.” As part of the reforms, the Government has said it will repurpose surplus military sites and explore the use of vessels in line with approaches taken in the Netherlands and Scotland. What will these sites look like and what will the impact be?

The age of camps and floating prisons

The Government has identified a few initial sites to accommodate new arrivals. These include the Northeye Residential and Training Establishment in Bexhill, the Ministry of Defence Wethersfield in Braintree, Essex, RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire and the Bibby Stockholm Vessel in Portland Port. 

The Government has claimed they are using vessels to accommodate people based on previous schemes in countries like the Netherlands. However, when barges have previously been used as accommodation, there was a massive health and safety breach where raw sewage leaked into their drinking water supplies. The Typhoid outbreak infected 72 people who needed immediate treatment.

Source: The Evening Standard

The 222-bedroom Bibby Stockholm is one such vessel and has been previously described as an ‘oppressive environment’. It is a 1970s-built barge which the Government will use to accommodate 500 male asylum seekers- double the number it was originally planned for. On 9th May 2023, it was reported that the barge had arrived in Cornwall for ‘assessment’ before being moved to the Isle of Portland, and the first group being accommodated will arrive there in June. The implementation of this vessel comes in spite of widespread opposition from all sides of the political spectrum. Here at MRN, our vehement opposition to this proposal is in relation to the conditions those accommodated there will face, and the negative impact such isolating circumstances may have on people seeking safety. The safety and wellbeing of those residing there are rarely if ever taken into consideration, and the Government is using new measures to make it easier for asylum accommodation to circumvent health and safety measures.

Crammed housing

The Government will introduce a temporary licensing exemption to houses of multiple occupancy (HMO) regulations for asylum seekers. In other words, landlords will be able to fill homes with large numbers of people in properties not designed to house so many people. HMO regulations were introduced to prevent properties becoming hazardous specifically in the event of fire, and we have seen the deadly and tragic results including when a young man who perished in a fire where 18 people were residing in a two-bedroom flat.

In addition, the Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick, recently stated that asylum seekers would be housed in the “most basic accommodation possible” and would meet the legal requirements to ensure people were not made “destitute” but “nothing more”. According to the Asylum Accommodation and Support Statement of Requirements (Schedule 2), General Accommodation requirements state that:

2.1.1 The Provider shall provide safe, habitable, fit for purpose and correctly equipped Accommodation in areas agreed with the Authority, including appropriate related services for those Service users.

With the law requiring asylum accommodation to meet certain standards, Jenrick’s statement exposes the hostility towards people seeking safety and the segregated refugee system that has taken hold in the UK. Whilst the Government introduced the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme and encouraged the population to open their doors to White Ukrainians, people forced to come via irregular routes from the Global South are treated with suspicion and placed into prison-like accommodation. 

During the week commencing 15th May 2023, Parliament is debating the issue of HMO for asylum accommodation.

Local opposition: what is the real reason?

Plans in Lincolnshire to turn RAF Scampton into asylum accommodation has garnered considerable criticism amongst the local community. At a public meeting this week, residents were told it would be men from Afghanistan, Libya and “them sort of areas”.

Local MPs have criticised Government plans to accommodate asylum seekers in their constituencies. Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh MP criticised plans around RAF Scampton while Richard Drax MP has said he will support Dorset Council if they choose to take action against the Government’s plans to put asylum seekers on a barge. Despite failed legal challenges (in the case of RAF Scampton), the strength of local opposition hasn’t faded. Nor is it a sentiment that is unique to the UK. 

If we are to understand why there is so much hostility towards accepting asylum seekers both in the UK and across Europe, we must analyse who this opposition is aimed towards. For example, when White Ukrainians arrived in the UK, many opened their homes to them. Yet when plans are made to accommodate refugees of Colour in a community, the welcome is not quite so enthusiastic.

These plans to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers in unsuitable and potentially dangerous accommodation is putting their lives at risk, and they face being retraumatised. 

Everyone deserves to be part of a community: the Government must support people seeking sanctuary and enable them to set down roots in their new communities. However, we have reached a point where indifference and hostility towards people seeking safety has reached such intensity that we are largely content to see people put in camps or floating prisons. How can we claim to be a compassionate country when we are prepared to do things we are so quick to condemn in other parts of the world? Britain’s record on human rights has always been weak, but we are set on a worrying path that will destroy any measly claim of upholding rights and dignity.

Sign our petition to end the Government’s cruel plans for inhumane asylum accommodation.