On 15 December Sir Roger Gale, MP for Thanet, asked for an emergency question in Parliament. It concerned plans for asylum seekers to be housed in the former RAF facilities at Manston. No warning was given to the local authority, which has other long-term plans to use this part of Manston for new local housing.
The Government spokesman in Parliament stated that the need was urgent, as the current facility in Tug Haven, Dover, could not cope with the recent increase of those arriving in small boats and had been criticised by inspectors.
Temporary housing for asylum seekers
Opposition MPs asked about the quality of the proposed accommodation at Manston. Some referred to the controversy over Napier Barracks in Folkestone, where refugees housed in dormitories caught Covid last year.
Tom Pursglove, the Government spokesman, pledged that all health and safety precautions would be kept at the Manston site. The asylum seekers would be housed there for not longer than five days while their initial applications are processed and criminal checks are made.
They would then be released for housing elsewhere in the UK according to the dispersal plan. The MP for Stoke boasted that Stoke takes the most dispersed asylum seekers, while an SNP MP commented that authorities in Scotland complain they are not given enough notice.
The MP for Blackpool reported that asylum seekers dispersed there have been housed in unsuitable hotels. There was also complaint about the time that processing took and the backlog of applications.
In the discussion, Sir Roger stated that he knew of an operationally sound vessel that could be used to accommodate these applicants off-shore.
Several MPs commented that the criminal people-smugglers must be stopped. Also that those arriving illegally by boat need to be sent back to the first safe country they arrived in after leaving their home countries.
Not so many, and not illegal
So in this short debate, the matter moved no further than what we already know from public discussion: the populists referring to “illegal” arrivals and wanting them sent anywhere else than these shores, while those more concerned about human rights focused on the details of their accommodation.
It is worth looking up the briefing paper that these MPs may have consulted before this debate. It points out that although the figures for Channel crossings have gone up this year, the overall figures for asylum seekers are lower than some previous years. Asylum seekers are 6% of all immigrants to the UK.
Processing applications takes time
Between January 2014 and March 2021, 26 661 people were resettled to the UK, mainly from Syria and the surrounding region. Resettlement accounted for around 20% of the people granted humanitarian protection in the UK since 2014. In the 15 years up to 2019, around three-quarters of applicants refused asylum at initial decision lodged an appeal, and almost one third of those appeals were allowed.
As of March 2021, the total “work in progress” asylum caseload consisted of 109,000 cases. Of these, 52,000 cases were awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2020, 5,200 were awaiting the outcome of an appeal, and approximately 41,600 cases were subject to removal action.
In 2019, there were around five asylum applications for every 10 000 people living in the UK. Across the EU28 there were 14 asylum applications for every 10,000 people.
Don’t confuse me With the facts!
So, looking again at the Commons debate, it is notable that some MPs are not paying attention to the reality of the numbers of asylum seekers in neighbouring countries. Under the 1951 Convention, a person has rights to claim asylum in any country so there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker.
The procedure of sending an individual back to the first safe country was under an EU agreement that the UK is now no longer part of.
Refugees tend to head towards countries where they have some links of family or language. The nationalities of those coming to the UK are different from those that, say, reach Spain. Recent UK statistics from UNHCR show the top five countries of nationality for asylum applications (from main applicants) were: Iran (6,002), Eritrea (4,412), Albania (4,010), Iraq (3,042) and Syria (2,303).
Special arrangements for Albanians
Albanians, population 3m with 10m in a diaspora, may be singled out for specific attention to criminal checks as a disproportionate number of individuals in British prisons (10%) are currently Albanian (many having been recruited to the UK drug trade). UK is offering to fund a new prison in Albania to receive deportees.
In the recent debate on Manston, some MPs asked about the backlog of processing. The promise that the new arrivals would only spend up to five days at Manston depends on how efficiently they can be processed. Those whose asylum is supported will be sent elsewhere, which depends on the preparedness of the relevant local authorities.
Under the current dispersal system for supported asylum seekers, it is noteworthy that while the South East has one for every 10 000 of the population, the North East takes 16.
More details concerning Dover
Later in the week beginning 12 December 2021 more details emerged of the inspection at Tug Haven, Dover, in October which found inadequate medical treatment, vulnerable young persons housed with others, cold conditions and people given nowhere to sleep for 24 hours.
The inspector from HM Prisons who had last year found the facilities badly equipped for their purpose, said that this year, although there had been some improvement (a marquee has been erected) large numbers continued to experience poor treatment and conditions.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
While having every sympathy with the individuals who suffered, the good news is that there is a monitoring system which exposes such abuse. Then those involved can begin to put things right and ensure the abuse is not continued.
The problem with secure facilities is that abuses can take place out of public view. Let’s hope Roger Gale and others in Thanet keep the proposed processing centre at Manston under their critical eyes.