A migrant rights group has launched another legal challenge against the Tories’ racist asylum accommodation. This time, the non-profit has targeted the government’s abhorrent and prison-like military housing estate.
It comes as a parliamentary committee published a report on the Home Office’s abysmal handling of asylum claims.
Racist and inhumane asylum accommodation
On 26 October, migrant rights and support group Care4Calais issued legal proceedings against the Home Office. Specifically, the group are bringing the challenge against its asylum accommodation at Wethersfield – a former military base in Essex.
The asylum scheme at Wethersfield is key to the Home Office’s broader approach to holding refugees. This is designed to host migrants while they await a decision on their claims. In particular, the former military site is part of its bid to shift away from hotel accommodation.
Hotel accommodation has presented a host of problems and bad press for the government. For one, as the Canary’s Afroze Zaidi explained in September, refugees have experienced:
cramped living conditions, damp, mould, pest infestations, and broken or missing furniture.
Moreover, the spiralling costs of the Home Office’s hotel stock have repeatedly hit headlines.
RAF bases to barges
So, the Tories have predictably responded to the mounting problems at these hotels with even less humane alternatives. Primarily, this has centred around imprisoning asylum seekers at refurbished former military bases and on repurposed barges.
Naturally, these sites have posed a number of similar issues. Both the Bibby Stockholm and Wethersfield have been the centre of viral outbreaks. What’s more, criticisms of the poor housing conditions and safety concerns have dogged the government’s flagship asylum housing plans. Much like the use of hotels, local councils have also had little say over these schemes.
As a result, these asylum accommodation sites have also faced a stream of legal action. Local councils and a resident have launched cases against both RAF Scampton and RAF Wethersfield, both of which hold asylum seekers. Hearings are due to take place on 31 October to 1 November respectively.
Meanwhile, after a failed judicial review against the Home Office earlier this month, Portland’s town mayor has issued a follow-up challenge against the local authority over the de facto prison barge, the Bibby Stockholm.
Now, Care4Calais has added its case against the RAF base-turned-asylum accommodation at Wethersfield to this growing list of legal challenges.
Legal proceedings against racist asylum accommodation
In a press release, the campaign group announced it had initiated legal proceedings against the Home Office. The group has called out the site’s “quasi-detention” prison-like conditions and said the surveillance, restrictions, and location amounted to “segregating” refugees from the local community. In particular, it underscored that:
they are segregated from the mainstream population in ways that and stigmatise and degrade them, and eat away at their dignity
It echoed accusations that Portland’s town mayor levied at the government in a recent failed legal bid over the Bibby Stockholm.
On top of this, Care4Calais highlighted that the Home Office should not be placing survivors of torture or modern slavery, or those suffering from serious mental health conditions at the site. However, it pointed out that they are “routinely being sent to Wethersfield.”
Ultimately, the group noted that:
Falsely imprisoning asylum seekers behind barbed wire fences, placing them under 24/7 surveillance, restricting their liberty and separating them from any semblance of community, is now the chosen policy of this Government.
Committee calls out government failings
The new legal challenge comes as a House of Commons parliamentary committee released a new damning report. Specifically, the Public Accounts Committee conducted an inquiry into the government’s progress in processing asylum claims.
The report said that, by the end of June 2023, the government had a backlog of over 175,000 unprocessed claims. The committee were told that over half of these people (91,000) had waited for at least a year for a decision.
Notably, the report revealed that the government is failing to find appropriate housing. In particular, it detailed how the government has found less than 10% of its aimed 500 beds a week of ‘dispersal’ accommodation in local communities.
Given this, the report stated that the government:
seemingly has no plan for how it will acquire enough accommodation in local areas to end its reliance on hotels.
Moreover, it criticised the government’s plans to force asylum seekers into room sharing. The committee said that they were:
not convinced that the Home Office has considered the trauma some people seeking asylum will have faced, or the protections required to ensure it is implementing room-sharing safely.
On 24 October, the Home Office announced its plans to move refugees out of 50 of these hotels by the end of January. It stated that it would refugees living in the hotels into:
other parts of the UK’s asylum estate, including the Bibby Stockholm barge.
Profits over people
Of course, this is all part of the government’s deliberate efforts to criminalise people seeking asylum. As I previously wrote on the Bibby Stockholm, these types of carceral asylum-holding sites embody:
the government’s hostile rhetoric, which seeks to sever asylum seekers’ connection with the surrounding community and support groups.
In other words, the shoddy accommodation is one of the latest incarnations of the Tories ‘hostile environment’. It stems from the ever-colonial pomp that pervades the UK political class. This is exercised through a capitalist system which puts profits over people – and especially racialised communities. Because, of course, there’s big money to be made in caging human beings. Naturally, the Tories’ rancid refugee scapegoating has provided the perfect cover to do just that.
Under the guise of purportedly sparing the taxpayer the burgeoning hotel bill, the Tories have funnelled cash into company coffers. For example, new analysis by the Labour Party found that the Bibby Stockholm is currently costing £800 per person, per night. Bibby Marine – the company leasing the barge – therefore stands to make stonking profits.
Crucially then, as the Canary’s Joe Glenton previously explained:
far from being about saving public cash, the policy of warehousing refugees in terrible accommodation is a function of the Tories‘ brutal anti-refugee ideology.
Legal challenges mount against immoral asylum plans
Moreover, alongside its infamous Rwanda policy, these sites are a core pillar of the government’s racist Illegal Migration Act. Yet communities, campaign groups, and councils are foiling both this hostile accommodation and its racist deportation plans. Repeated legal bids have exposed the racist motivations at the heart of these schemes – and sometimes proved them illegal.
For example, in July, the High Court ruled that the Home Office was unlawfully housing unaccompanied minors in hotels. Also in July, a group of asylum seekers won a separate case against the home secretary and her department. It found that the Home Office had breached its duty to provide adequate housing and financial support to prevent destitution.
Meanwhile, on 13 October, Right to Remain initiated a challenge against the government’s lack of legal aid for asylum seekers.
As such, the Tories’ racist carceral asylum accommodation system looks to be rapidly coming undone. It’s high time the UK government put the lives and rights of people seeking safety – wherever they’re from – above corporate greed.
Feature image via Channel 4 News/Youtube screengrab.
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