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Asylum Seekers: Accommodation

Volume 825: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the provision of appropriate accommodation for asylum seekers after their departure from the Manston immigration centre.

I thank the noble Lord for his Question. We are committed to working closely with communities and stakeholders to ensure that destitute asylum seekers are housed in safe, secure and suitable accommodation. All appropriate options are being explored to ensure that suitable accommodation is secured as quickly as is necessary, and hotels are one element.

It may assist the noble Lord to know how the system works in terms of the steps of allocating accommodation. Clearly, the Secretary of State is under a statutory obligation to provide accommodation support to destitute asylum seekers. At Manston this appears to be the large majority of those arriving in small boats. They are housed at Manston for as short a period as possible, then sent to ring-fenced hotel accommodation and on to other hotel accommodation. Once their application—

I am not sure whether the Minister has finished his reply. Does he understand that when the Home Secretary uses language about an “invasion” and the Immigration Minister writes that “‘Hotel Britain’ must end”, these are incendiary utterances that might have been calculated to inflame hard-right hatred of refugees? Is he aware that, following the exposure of the squalid and dangerous overcrowding at Manston, the Home Office has abandoned asylum seekers to sleep rough on pavements in London, with no warm clothes or money? Is it not the case that the Home Office has been dumping asylum seekers, with no forewarning and no information, on councils already struggling to house people in need, or on homelessness charities, or leaving them in limbo in hotels for apparently interminable periods? How do these realities square with his claim to noble Lords that the mission of the Home Office is

“to treat all who come to our country with care and compassion”?—[Official Report, 9/11/22; col. 643.]

As I said in my earlier Answer, we are required to provide support and accommodation to asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute while their claims are pending. Given the current pressing need to move people from Manston, we are necessarily considering all possible options and acting to secure suitable accommodation at pace. We endeavour to notify as early as possible the local authorities where the accommodation is located. The noble Lord will appreciate that this is an unprecedented situation that has required very quick action by Home Office officials.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that asylum seekers are not alien invaders to these shores but innocent people who are the victims of horrendous conflict in different parts of the world, such as the Middle East, Afghanistan, Ukraine and so many other places? Does he agree that it is only right that we extend hospitality to them?

I agree with part of what the noble Lord says. Obviously, it is important that all those who come to seek asylum in the UK have the opportunity to have their applications considered, and that all those who are genuine asylum seekers are of course afforded all that this country can offer by way of protection. In that sense, I agree with the noble Lord.

My Lords, I welcome the recent more productive talks with our French friends and allies. Has consideration been given to building, at joint expense but with a considerable amount from us, decent hostel-type accommodation in France, where the British officials who are now assessing applications can work and where people can be given a proper assessment and clean living conditions?

I hear what my noble friend says. Clearly, the recently concluded negotiations with the French concerned the use of Border Force officials within the French detection mechanism on the French coast, but I will certainly take back my noble friend’s suggestion to the Home Office.

My Lords, I was at Manston last week and I have two questions. First, how many of the people currently at Manston have been there longer than 24 hours, which is the designated time? Secondly, the Minister said that the Home Office would endeavour to inform local authorities. I was in Oxford last week, where I was told that 200 people had arrived from Manston and there had not been a word of warning or consultation with the local authority.

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I, too, was at Manston last week and I am sure that he will share my admiration for the hard work of the staff at Manston in very difficult circumstances. I can assure the noble Lord that the current figure for those at Manston as of 8 am this morning was 1,428. I am afraid that I am unable to give the noble Lord information about the longest period of any person detained there. I will endeavour to find that information and write to the noble Lord. On the noble Lord’s Oxford question, I am afraid I do not know the answer but I will find out and write to him.

My Lords, of course we are delighted at the hard work that the people at Manston are putting into this, but there is a very serious problem indeed. Just a few days ago, I had an email from one of my clergy who said that, during the week, large numbers of asylum seekers were moved in, without any warning to the local authority or local partners, and it has caused chaos. That means not only that we do not have the statutory support in place but that voluntary groups such as churches, which are trying to offer support, simply have no warning. Will he go back to his officials? We simply need to get the communication right and we will all work with the Government and other partners to try to solve this very difficult, agonising problem.

I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate. The issues surrounding the allocation of accommodation are certainly the subject of concentrated effort by Home Office officials, and it is the intention to improve notification. I add that we are incredibly grateful for the activities of church groups and others who help provide assistance to those accommodated in hotels.

My Lords, following on from the right reverend Prelate’s question and that of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, it appears, worryingly, that the Home Office is still not talking to the directors of public health in local areas receiving people from Manston. On 1 November, the Minister said that there were four cases of diphtheria. I am hearing that there are now nearly 40 cases, and we know that people are not being tested as they leave Manston. The Minister offered to write to me before; will he now agree to meet to discuss this urgent health issue?

My understanding is that there are 12 diphtheria cases, but I will certainly make further inquiries in light of that. I can assure the noble Baroness that healthcare in contingency asylum accommodation is a priority. Those contracted to the Home Office endeavour to ensure that people accommodated in hotels or other contingency accommodation are signposted to GP practices, and there is local health screening in most cases.

My Lords, can my noble friend explain to me how it is possible to regard people coming from Albania, which is a stable and democratic country, as asylum seekers, and how much is it costing the taxpayer to put these people up in hotels?

Clearly, a large number of those crossing are from Albania. It is understood that around 12,000 of those who have crossed this year have been from there, and it is right to say that Albania is a safe country. Migrants are entitled to avail of the asylum application process and those applications are considered in accordance with the procedure as it currently stands. This matter clearly needs to be considered and is being considered.