Row over plan for asylum seeker camps with no electricity or water

Row over plan to create asylum seeker camps with no electricity or water to act as a deterrent for people traffickers

  • Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes warned that the Home Office’s proposed changes to the asylum system ‘have far reaching implications’
  • The changes are due to come into force on January 1 following the UK’s departure from the European Union
  • Home Office minister Chris Philp said accommodation the Government provides to asylum seekers is ‘reasonable’ and ‘good’
  • The UK set up its first camp for asylum seekers in Kent in September 

MPs have clashed over proposed changes to the UK asylum system due to coming into force next year. 

Several ‘camps’ lacking mains electricity and water are to be created to house asylum seekers, according to a Conservative former immigration minister.

Caroline Nokes warned the Home Office’s proposed changes coming into force on January 1 ‘have far reaching implications’.

Ms Nokes added that while the reforms are intended to act as a deterrent to people traffickers, they instead ‘create a separate tier of asylum seeker’ who will not have their claim considered. 

Nokes said in parliament that the Home Office will seek to return these individuals ‘with no mechanism yet to do so’. 

Home Office minister Chris Philp countered that the accommodation the Government provides to asylum seekers is ‘reasonable’ and ‘good’.

The exchange comes three months after the UK opened its first camp for asylum seekers in a disused army barracks in Folkestone, Kent.

MPs have clashed over proposed changes to the UK asylum system due to coming into force next year. Several ‘camps’ lacking mains electricity and water are to be created to house asylum seekers, according to a Conservative former immigration minister. Pictured: The UK’s first camp for asylum seekers at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent [File photo]

Some 400 asylum seekers are housed at the Napier Barracks, though it has emerged that eight have gone missing since the barracks became a camp for asylum seekers in September [File photo]

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Ms Nokes said the new proposals will see asylum seekers ‘housed in camps… with no mains electricity, nor mains water.’

She questioned whether the changes could see an increase to the asylum backlog and if the powers Philp ‘intends to use to create several of these camps’ could be extended in such a way that avoids parliamentary scrutiny.  

‘I ask the minister, does he have a strategic plan or does he hope housing people on sites where he admits he will not provide healthcare will just act as a deterrent?’ 

‘The minister plans to put people in camps with no mains water at a time when we know hygiene is critical and if it were not for you [Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle] having granted this urgent [question] today, he would not even have come to the House to explain himself.’

Responding, Philp said: ‘I would say the accommodation we provide is reasonable, is good.

‘There are 60,000 people currently being accommodated.’

The Government, he said, had a ‘proud record’ of helping those who are genuinely in need, adding: ‘The purpose of these changes are to prepare us for a life after Dublin [regulation].

The Dublin regulation is a European Union law that determines which country is responsible for examining an asylum application. 

Caroline Nokes warned the Home Office’s proposed changes coming into force on January 1 ‘have far reaching implications’. Pictured: Nokes arriving for a Cabinet meeting in May 2019 [File photo]

‘It’s quite right that we make those preparations but at the heart of this is a desire to dissuade people, indeed prevent people from making unnecessary and dangerous journeys.

‘In particular across the English Channel, endangering their own lives, feeding ruthless criminal people smugglers and all for no purpose because France is a safe country, where asylum can easily be claimed, as are the other European countries these migrants have travelled through.’

Mr Philp said the Government is taking action to ‘fix’ the asylum system ‘so it is firm and fair – firm where the system is being abused but fair to those who need protection’.

The changes to the immigration rules laid last week he said ‘are vital to curb irregular migration which is often facilitated by ruthless criminal gangs’.

He said: ‘These changes will mean that individuals who could and should have claimed asylum previously in a safe country may not have their asylum claims determined in the UK where we are able to safely return them.

‘These new measures will enable us to replace Dublin with more flexible returns arrangements.

Home Office minister Chris Philp countered that the accommodation the Government provides to asylum seekers is ‘reasonable’ and ‘good’. Pictured: Philp speaking on the BBC’s Politics London programme [File photo]

‘This will have a deterrent effect by sending a clear message to anyone thinking of coming to the UK dangerously from a safe country that they should not risk their lives by doing so.’

For Labour, shadow Home Office minister Holly Lynch said the changes are being introduced ‘by the back door’ and give no opportunity for proper scrutiny in Parliament.

Conservative former minister Sir Edward Leigh warned: ‘Sooner or later, there’s going to be an appalling tragedy in the Channel. The reason why economic migrants make this crossing is that they know that our present asylum laws are a complete joke.

‘That if you make it half way across the Channel, the chance of ever being deported are virtually nil because of the activities of so-called human rights lawyers who are actually putting lives at risk by their shenanigans in the law courts.

‘What we want to have from the minister is an absolute firm commitment that as from January 1, if you cross the Channel it is obvious you are coming from a safe country, you will be immediately returned. That’s what we want to know.’

The controversial camp at Folkstone has been described as ‘overcrowded’ and faced opposition from local politicians who felt they were not adequately consulted prior to its opening [File photo] 

Mr Philp said the UK does need to deter crossings and make sure that its legal process ‘works effectively’, noting ‘very often it does not do so’.

In September, the UK opened its first asylum seeker camp in Napier Barracks, a disused Second World War army barracks in Folkstone, Kent. 

The move to house 400 people at the facility caused controversy with the area’s MP Damian Collins saying he had ‘great concerns’. 

Folkestone and Hythe council leader David Monk said communication from the Government over the decision had been ‘very, very poor’ and warned the move was a ‘recipe for disaster’. 

‘My thoughts are simple,’ he said. ‘There has been zilch consultation, protocols have not been followed, this has been very poorly handled by the Home Office, and myself, the MP, the ward councillor, the council chairman and the local parish are all up in arms. 

‘The site is in the middle of nowhere. We believe the concentration of single males – up to 400 – is not sensible. 

‘Our concern is, what are they going to do? They will gravitate to town and form groups and trouble will ensue. We have had no consultation and that’s the thing we are really, really angry about.’ 

There have also been reports of overcrowding at the facility and accusations that volunteers working there have been muzzled under the Official Secrets Act.      

But supporters of the camp say the policy of dispersing asylum seekers around the country means they can be lost from the system, and the promise of a comfortable living situation, free food and a £40-a-week spending allowance for many encourages migrants to attempt the perilous Channel crossing. 

On Monday it was reported that eight asylum seekers have gone missing from the barracks since September.

While individuals are not required to stay there, they must provide an address if they choose to live elsewhere and failure to do so may result in an asylum application being withdrawn.

The disappearances have raised questions about the security of the facility. 

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